Robbinsdale school board nearing vote to outsource jobs of school bus drivers

School bus drivers for ISD 281 seek community support calls, e-mails, and letters to the school board to oppose to a threat to outsource their jobs to a private contractor.

Never mind a combined total of 500-plus years of service by dedicated school bus drivers. The board of directors for Robbinsdale Area Schools, ISD 281, is nearing a March 5 vote on whether to outsource the jobs of the district’s school bus drivers to a private contractor.

Outsourcing was a threat the district issued to the drivers and their union, SEIU Local 284, if the workers failed to agree to contract concessions.

“We just offered a larger pay-cut than they originally offered us,” said Shelly Johnson, business representative for SEIU Local 284. “They have been telling us if we took concessions, they would not contract out.”

The drivers have identified routing and scheduling improvements that would reduce overtime costs, plus other efficiencies. “Cumulatively, we’ve already identified about $600,000 in savings,” Johnson reported. “We believe there’s another $200,000 in there.” But, she added: “the goal post seems to keep moving.”

The district administration insists that contracting out the 26 full-time, 80 part-time drivers’ jobs — and selling its bus fleet — will save $1.3 million.

“We’ve proved to them this is false,” said Tom Mead, Brooklyn Park, union steward and ISD 281 bus driver since 1998. The union maintains, too, that any savings will be offset by other costs.

“A lot of these drivers have driven the same route for years,” Mead said. “88 percent of us live in the district. We know the neighborhoods. The parents know us. The kids know us.”

“You feel like there’s a real bond there. You just don’t have that with a contractor,” said district resident and Local 284 member  Laura Aune, who has driven for ISD 281 for 12-1/2 years.

The union warns that a large, national school bus company like First Student — who the district is expected to pick — can take the district for a ride.

“What they do is low-ball, get into a district, then hike the rates up,” Mead warned. “Now you’re stuck.”

Safety is another concern. SEIU Local 284 cites 2011 Minnesota Department of Transportation reports showing 13.6 percent of First Student busses failed safety inspections, compared to only 3.7 percent of ISD 281 busses.

Local 284 members warn that First Student, known for lower pay, no holidays, no sick days no health insurance, won’t attract the same caliber of drivers.

“These are all the things that draw good people to good jobs,” Aune said.

E-mail ISD 281 school board members at school_board [at] rdale [dot] org

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Steve Share's picture
Steve Share

Steve Share is the editor of the Minneapolis Labor Review.


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Who's giving the ride

I like the statement by the Union that a "National School Bus Company ... can take the district for a ride.

Who's taking who for a ride.  The Union admittedly says that there are more deduction that they can take, but they weren't offering that until they may lose the contract.  How long was the union going to allow the routes to be inefficient, as long as they could milk the money from the district.

I've worked for a busing company who drove for a district that still employed union drivers.  Same trip, one union driver and one company driver. When trip reports are turned in there would be  and increased amount of miles and time reported by the union driver compared to the contract driver.  The district would pay the added cost for the union driver just because it was the union.

If I turned in something like that my employer would be talking to me about why I'm reporting extra hrs and more miles than it should have taken.

Why is it unions can continue to rip off the tax payer and run up costs for everything we pay for yet they don't have to go by the same rules as the rest of us.