Friday, March 7, 2014
Driving Horses Remains Passion for Teamster School Bus Worker
Local 777's 'Real Teamster' Moonlights With High-End Carriage Company

Sue Crocker filled out her first union card and officially joined the Teamsters just last year. But at age 63, she’s been a Teamster her entire life.

Raised on a dairy farm in Grant Park, Ill., only 50 miles south of Chicago, Crocker grew up on the backs of horses. From milking cows to tending land, baling hay and reining teams of Percherons and Clydesdales, she spent decades harnessing the kind of horsepower Teamsters depended on for generations.

Presently, Crocker’s day job has her operating a different kind of horsepower. Like the hundreds of thousands of Teamsters who haul freight, plow snow and deliver goods nationwide, the hardworking member of Teamsters Local 777 drives a school bus for the Grant Park School District. After 11 years on the job, and a new school administration that began to change workplace conditions for district drivers, Crocker reached out to the union for help.

Together with Local 777 President James T. Glimco, she mobilized an organizing drive in 2013 to bring representation to Grant Park’s school bus drivers — and solidify her membership in the Teamsters Union for the first time.

“None of our drivers in Grant Park have any regrets about joining the Teamsters,” Crocker said. “Reaching out to Local 777 is what got things going for us. Even though we only have six full-time drivers, the local treats our group like we have 50. The Teamsters really look out for us.”

The Team in Teamsters
In addition to her work with the school district and her duties on the farm — she and her two adult children still own one — Crocker moonlights as a team driver and carriage operator with Jim and Becky’s Horse and Carriage Service in Peotone, Ill. The high-end company operates carriages for weddings, parades, funerals and festivals, and relies on experienced drivers like Crocker who know how to handle the horses and take pride in their customer service.

The part-time hobby began 12 years ago when Jim and Becky’s found itself short-staffed and a friend reached out to Crocker for her lifetime of work in the field. After assisting the company with appointments over several weekends, the new Teamster found the opportunity to drive horses in such grand style too tempting a gig to walk away from.

“The carriage I primarily drive with my horses was used during Oprah Winfrey’s Royal Wedding episode in 2011. That’s how high-end these carriages are,” said Crocker, who can handle up to four horses at once. “I take a lot of pride in this work. I’m always trying to do the best I can to treat people with the utmost courtesy and make sure they have a wonderful experience.”

Driving these teams of horses — the very definition of a Teamster — ultimately is in Crocker’s blood. Her father, while running his dairy farm, would train and show horses at county fairs throughout the 1950s. Two decades later, Crocker herself was showing horses in Milwaukee’s famous Great Circus Parade and at the Illinois State Fair, a tradition she continues to this day.

On her own farm in Grant Park, Crocker and her children currently care for a stable of nine horses, including four Percherons, a majestic gray and black breed.

“The union always tells me I’m one of the real Teamsters,” Crocker jokes. “It feels good. It’s neat.”

Driving More Than a Job
Her commitment to her animals and her lifelong passion for hard work extend to Crocker’s Teamster service as a school bus driver. The Local 777 member sees little difference between satisfying a customer of Jim and Becky’s Horse and Carriage and doing everything she can to make sure students travel safely to and from school.

“We’re a real community in Grant Park and we have a very small school district. When you work with your neighbors and take their kids home day after day, you really get to know people,” Crocker said. “If we have an early dismissal and mom isn’t home from work yet, you notice these things. Maybe you’ll take some kids back to school or find another option. At the end of the day, you do what you have to do to look out for them.”

For Local 777, which represents thousands of school bus workers across Chicagoland, members like Crocker are why the Teamsters fight so hard for men and women in the industry.

“School bus workers, including drivers, attendants and aides, aren’t just punching a clock and cashing a paycheck. They care about these kids and the families in their communities. They’re performing a vital service that millions of Americans rely on every day,” said Glimco, who also serves as a Trustee of Teamsters Joint Council 25. “For all of their sacrifices, school bus workers deserve the security of a Teamster contract and the assurance that they’re going to be as safe in their workplace as they want their students to be on and off the bus.”

For more information on Jim and Becky’s Horse and Carriage Service, including reserving a carriage for a special event, visit www.ChicagoWeddingCarriage.com.

Teamsters Local 777 is an affiliate of Teamsters Joint Council 25, America’s premier labor union for Chicago, Illinois and northwest Indiana.

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