The president of America's Teamsters union, Jimmy Hoffa junior, last night urged National Express to open talks over labour practices at its Durham School Services business that runs some of the yellow US-style school buses.
Mr Hoffa will lead a Teamsters delegation, including drivers of the buses, which will attend Wednesday's National Express shareholders meeting in Birmingham in an attempt to call attention to what they say are "systemic problems" with the group's "human capital management" in the US.
More than 100 Teamsters investors, along with three members of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum, the Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire county council and London borough of islington pension funds, have submitted a motion calling on the board's safety and environment committee to provide what they describe as "quality oversight" of "human capital management".
"The whole purpose of this is to call attention of the board to what is really going on with this business in the US. They are being told that everything is fine, but everything is not fine. The board should oversee what's been going on," Mr Hoffa told The Independent.
The Teamsters have pointed to repeated complaints to America's National Labour Relations Board as evidence of what it says are problems with the bus business. "We want to talk to them. We want the board to be more active in overseeing this business. We have reached out to them and told them we want to have a partnership but they are just not interested," he said.
Mr Hoffa said he believed workers in the US and Canada should have "the same rights and engagement as workers in the UK and Spain at National Express have".
Kieran Quinn, chairman of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, said that, as a long-term investor, it believed "effective management of human capital" was "essential to delivering sustainable returns". He said the fund was not convinced the company was "getting it right".
The resolution is backed by the Unite union and the TUC, which has been keen to push greater cross-border co-operation on matters like this involving multinationals.
Pirc, the voting adviser, has urged shareholders to back the resolution. But National Express is fiercely opposed and its chairman Sir John Armitt has written to shareholders to ask them to vote the resolution down. In the letter, he argued the that company's Driving Out Harm safety programme had cut accidents and that its workplace rights programme was drawn from the UN Declaration on Human Rights. National Express insisted it had "the right policies in place to protect the safety and welfare of our employees", adding: "Our safety and employee satisfaction statistics show the significant improvements we have made."