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 firstname.lastname@example.org