After nine years of transporting Mills College students to and from school, beloved shuttle driver Oscar Warren has quietly renounced his position under less than optimal circumstances. Warren said several instances of injustice and infringement on his rights as an employee were his primary reasons for leaving the job he had hoped to have until his retirement in another five years. However, his supervisors both at Mills and WeDriveU do not corroborate his story.
Warren said he began to notice unfairness in how he was being treated two years ago, when Michael Lopez was director of Public Safety at Mills. Warren, who worked the afternoon and evening shift, said that his break was scheduled differently than those who worked the morning shift; unlike the morning drivers, he claims that he was not allowed to take his 20-minute break until 5.25 hours into his shift rather than 4, which is the state limit.
“[Lopez] said that he had to get six trips back and forth from campus to Cal at the time and I guess he didn’t want to do any more leg work on [the schedule] to try and change it,” Warren said. “I questioned him about it and he said that he didn’t put it together, that the schedule came to him out of the Cowell building.”
Around the same time as the schedule change, Warren’s company, WeDriveU, hired a new regional district manager, Rob Jones, and Lopez left Mills a year later, leaving current Director of Public Safety Niviece Robinson and Associate Vice President of Operations Linda Zitzner to split the position’s duties.
According to Warren, Jones, Robinson and Zitzner held a meeting with Warren and the other two shuttle drivers in January of this year, in which they told Warren he would not be responsible for the routine maintenance check performed on the shuttles each day because it was part of the job description of the morning drivers.
But in an interview with The Campanil, Zitzner explained that drivers must submit “vehicle inspection forms” for every shift that detail the condition of the shuttle. She said that Oscar was filling them out just like the other drivers. She also said that she does not believe that the conversation about the inspection forms took place.
“He was doing them in February 2012, January of 2013 and on through until May because he doesn’t drive during the summer, and then again coming back this semester,” Zitzner said. “I couldn’t say unequivocally one way or the other, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what was said.”
In the same meeting Warren said he also broached the subject of his driving schedule, pointing out that the pick-up time at the Kaiser stop between 4:50 p.m. and 5:10 p.m. was putting him into the throes of rush hour traffic and causing him to miss his break. He claimed his superiors said they would change the schedule over the summer to accommodate the break — but when Warren returned in August, he said that nothing had been done.
“[Robinson] said that they kept it the same way because of the Bay Bridge closure,” Warren said. “After that, they never changed the schedule because I think that they figured they would get rid of me in between that time anyway.”
The issue of the schedule was never resolved, but a different misunderstanding that occurred Sept. 4 was the last straw for Warren. According to Warren, the chain of events happened this way: when the oil filler cap was not replaced on the engine after the daily routine checkup, the blame was immediately placed on Warren, who was told by Jones that he was no longer going to be driving the shuttles, effective immediately. Warren said he reminded Jones that, per his own declaration in their meeting, Warren was not even obliged to check the oil. Jones allegedly then told Warren that he would only be allowed to drive Thursdays and Fridays pending further investigation, a condition that Zitzner said she was not privy to.
“We may not have any visibility to that because [Oscar] reported to WeDriveU,” Zitzner said. “We often don’t have much access to what goes on between the supervisors, their organization and the drivers.”
Jones, on the other hand, said that that was not what happened; he said that he did not tell Warren that he was only allowed to work Thursdays and Fridays and that Warren was never off work in the first place.
According to Warren, Jones requested that he perform the maintenance check, just like the morning drivers. Jones allegedly also asked Warren to arrive at 2:30 p.m., 15 minutes before his normal shift began, in order to check the buses — which he did, though Warren contends that none of it was in his job description.
“I asked [Jones] if I would be paid, and he said that it was within my 8 hours of pay which isn’t possible because I originally started at 2:45 p.m. and drive until 10:55 p.m.,” Warren said. “That other 15 minutes was unpaid.”
However Jones contends that the drivers are paid for whatever time they spend working.
“Every commercial driver is responsible for their vehicle,” Jones said. “All drivers are paid for their actual hours worked and are responsible for putting the correct hours worked on their timesheet.”
Warren also said that after checking with a Public Safety officer he discovered that one of the other drivers, Bharti Keys, reported the cap missing on Tuesday, Sept. 3 and was the last driver to check on it on Monday, Sept. 2. According to Warren footage from the cameras pointed at the shuttle’s parking spot, as well as Public Safety’s paperwork, show that Keys was the last person to check the shuttle before the cap went missing.
“Keys kept saying to me, ‘I know I put that cap on, I know I did,’ but she knew I didn’t check under the hood because she was in that meeting that we all attended,” Warren said. “Keys left the cap off, there were no repercussions behind her doing so, and they immediately wanted to terminate me.”
But Zitzner holds that Keys did not appear on the footage until 6 a.m. the next morning, and that how the cap was lost was never determined.
“It was investigated but there was nothing that we could tell or see,” Zitzner said. “Anecdotal information is all we have.”
“We’ve done as much as we can to treat everybody fairly and equally,” Zitzner said. “We have had other complaints and have investigated those and Rob has written up as appropriate.”
Warren, however, said he believes that one of the reasons no further investigation was conducted is because Zitzner prefers the brisk manner in which Keys treats student riders, which differs from the jolly demeanor that is Warren’s trademark. According to Warren, several student complaints have been lodged against Keys, who acknowledged in their staff meeting that she “reprimands the students for noise and other things.”
Warren disagrees with reprimanding students, asserting that it is a superfluous practice because students who ride the shuttle have always been respectful to him.
“Everybody is cordial to me and that’s how you treat little kids — at the college level, all of that is unnecessary.”
Warren maintained that Mills had been a “wonderful place to work” and that he had planned to stay on until retirement despite the frustrations he felt. However, Warren said he feels that he would not have lasted long at Mills under current conditions, and that leaving was the best decision given the circumstance.
Warren has also lodged a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; he said he hopes that the matter will be investigated further. In the meantime, he has taken a job at another unified school district as a driver.
“I’m really sad that Oscar left because whenever I went on the shuttle and he was there, it made my day,” junior Cindy Nguyen-Pham said.
Warren wants the students to know that he will miss them.
“I love all of the students, but I have to do what’s best for me because I knew exactly what was going to end up happening,” Warren said, referring to his belief that he eventually would have been let go. “I’ll miss all of you — believe me, I already do — knowing that I won’t be back anymore.”