School Bus Drivers
In many major cities, public bus drivers are unionized and have fairly good wages and benefits. Unfortunately, for those who carry our most precious and vulnerable cargo - our children and disabled individuals, the bus drivers are often not represented by a union and the workers' wages, benefits and working conditions are unnecessarily harsh and demeaning.
School Bus Companies
Years ago, most school bus drivers worked directly for the local school districts. But no longer. Now a growing percentage of school districts subcontract out their bus services to a large bus company. The two largest bus driving companies that have the vast majority of contracts with U.S. school districts are First Student/First Transit and Durham School Services. School districts are paying significant amounts of money to large multinational companies that routinely pay their U.S workers poverty level wages and benefits. School bus drivers, carrying such precious cargo, deserve better.
First Student and First Transit are both owned by FirstGroup. The company's website says it is "the world's leading transport operator with revenues of over £6 billion. We employ some 130,000 staff throughout the UK and North America and transport some 2.5 billion passengers a year." In the United Kingdom, the company operates both buses and trains. The U.S operations are run by FirstGroup America, Inc., headquartered in Cincinnati. First Group America, Inc. operates yellow school buses under First Student; it operates transit contracting and management services under First Transit; and it operates vehicle maintenance and support services under First Services. It also operates Greyhound in the U.S. and Canada. This is the largest school bus company in the U.S.
Durham School Services (U.S.) and Stock Transportation (Canada) are school bus companies owned by the National Express Group, PLC, a UK-based transportation firm that operates trains, buses and trams in the UK, North America and Spain. Worldwide, it employs 41,000 people. Its North American subsidiary, National Express Corporation, controls Durham School Services and Stock Transportation, which together operate more than 17,000 buses and employ more than 21,000 people. Durham School Services is headquartered in Warrenville, Illinois, outside Chicago. This is the second largest school bus company in the U.S.
There are also several regional school bus systems where workers are organizing with the teamsters, such as Cook County, Illinois in the Chicago metro area and Baumann Bus Companies on Long Island.
Working conditions for most school bus drivers who have no representation are abysmal. Workers who organize get contracts that improve wages, benefits and working conditions, but until unions represent a larger percentage of workers in the industry, it will be hard to significantly increase wages and benefits. Most school bus drivers without union representation have:
Low wages: Average wages in non-union yards range from $8 to $13 - far below what it takes to support a family. The average Teamster school bus driver earns $2 more than the average school bus driver not represented by a union contract.
Lousy benefits: Most workers have no health insurance, no pension, no vacation days, no holidays and no sick days. International corporations like First Group and National Express Group can do better. In fact, most of their European workers are treated much better than their American workers.
Little say in operations: Long-term school bus drivers know the routes and know the kids. They ought to have a say in operations. Unfortunately, without a union, most school bus drivers have no organized way to voice their concerns and ideas.
Wage theft: In addition to low wages, lousy benefits and little input, many school bus drivers are victims of wage theft. Their employers are not paying them for all their hours and work. A recent survey of school bus drivers in York, Pennsylvania and Kansas City, Missouri found that workers were routinely cheated out of their wages. For example, 86 percent of the drivers in York who worked overtime reported they were not paid time and a half as the law requires.
In the last few years, more and more school bus drivers have sought representation by the Teamsters union. The Teamsters now represent more than 75,000 bus employees throughout the country. Where the Teamsters represent workers, wages have improved, workers have added a range of benefits including sick days, vacation days, holidays and health care, and workers now have a voice in determining routes, substitutions, grievances and a range of other issues of concern to school bus drivers.
Supporting School Bus Drivers
School bus drivers need community support to improve their wages, benefits and working conditions. Community and religious leaders can:
- Meet and pray with workers. Workers need to know that the broader community supports their efforts to improve their working conditions.
- Encourage school districts and school boards to insist that the bus companies respect workers rights to organize. Too often, companies harass and intimidate workers who try to organize. Community pressure on school districts and boards can ensure that the bus companies remain neutral when workers try to organize.
- Insist that workers get paid all their wages. School bus drivers do important work. They should be paid legally and fairly. If requested by workers, meet with local managers to insist that workers are paid fairly.
The best way to figure out how you can be helpful to workers is to talk with them directly. Below are communities in which workers are seeking good Teamster contracts (and need your help). If you need assistance in locating someone to talk with in your community, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
California: Orange County, Santa Ana
Illinois: Lake Villa, Montgomery, Crestwood
Iowa: Council Bluffs
New Jersey: Trenton, Lakewood
Pennsylvania: Allentown, York
The following sources provide additional information on working conditions for school bus drivers.
The Union Difference documents the improvements union contracts have made for school bus drivers.
National Express Monitoring Commission Report is an independent report looking into the working conditions and problems workers face when they try to organize a union.