Ontario School Bus Drivers Support Possible Strike, Should Negotiations Collapse
March 7, 2012, 9:00 AM EST
School bus drivers employed by multinational operator First Student have overwhelmingly supported a strike mandate after more than six months of fruitless negotiations.
CAW Local 4268 represents approximately 750 school bus drivers who provide services for school boards and customers in various locations across southern Ontario. Some or all of the customers may see service interruptions if the parties fail to come to a tentative agreement later this month. The strike mandate expires on March 30, so notice may be given prior to that date, at any time.
"The employer, school boards and other customers constantly come up with new procedures, policies and job requirements that add even greater time and responsibilities beyond the route times for drivers," CAW Local 4268 President Debbie Montgomery said. "The issue is not with the new procedures or regulations, but the fact that the time they require is often not compensated."
"Drivers are expected to fulfill various tasks before, between and even after their routes. This practice has become so widespread that driving a school bus is now partially volunteer work - instead of regular paid employment. I don't think this is a reasonable way to treat the people with whom we entrust our children."
Negotiations have been ongoing since October 2011 and the union has been in a legal strike position since December. The CAW was hopeful that an agreement could be reached, but to date, there is little sign of this happening.
School bus drivers operate large commercial vehicles with a load of up to 70 children and assist students with special needs to attend programs or schools, all on a tight schedule. Many times, school bus drivers have multiple routes or destinations built into their schedule.
"Driving a school bus is a full time commitment for a part time job," said CAW National Representative Len Poirier. "We are trying to enshrine a higher level of respect and dignity for these drivers. It's very troubling that the industry requires so much of these drivers, yet the pay scale is often close to minimum wage."
Poirier said there is another round of meetings between the two sides set up for early March. Should the negotiations continue to fail to produce a settlement, the union will set a strike deadline before the end of March. In addition to these negotiations another 120 members in CAW Local 4266 in Cornwall and Kingston are also in a similar position as they have rejected one tentative agreement and continue with negotiations.
"We will be working hard to try and find a resolve to this impasse but at the end of the day, these drivers have a huge responsibility and the employer, customers and the public need to recognize them," said Montgomery.
First Student is operated by First Group, the largest provider of school bus services in the home to school market.
CAW members currently in a legal strike position provide services in the following communities for these customers:
Bowmanville: Durham Catholic, Durham Public, STSCO (Kawartha Pineridge (KPR) and Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland County (PVNC)) and the French Catholic Board.
Thornhill: Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the French Board and 1 Private School (Island).
Owen Sound: Three boards through one transportation consortium: Bluewater District School Board, Bruce Grey Catholic District School Board, Conseil Scolaire de District des Ecoles Catholiques du Sud Ouest
Hawkestone (Mississauga): Peel District School Board (English Public), Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (English Catholic), Conseil scolaire de district du Centre-Sud-Ouest (French Public), Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud (French Catholic)
Lindsay: Trillium Lakeland District School Board, Durham Catholic School Board, Transit run for the City of Kawartha Lakes.
Port Elgin and Kincardine: Contract services to the Bruce Power Nuclear Plant, Bluewater District SB and Bruce-Grey Catholic District SB