Citing Unfair Working conditions, 7 out of 9 Alfred Almond Bus Drivers Hold 'Sick Out'
ALMOND, N.Y. (WENY)-- On Wednesday, January 5th hundreds of Alfred Almond Central School District students waited at the bottom of their driveways for a ride that never came.
Unbeknownst to families, students and the school district , seven out of nine of the school's bus drivers were holding a ‘sick out’ to protest what they considered unfair pay and poor working conditions.
The drivers cited a handful of issues that they felt needed to be addressed before they returned to work, the main issue on the forefront of the ‘sick-out’ was pay. Drivers currently make $15.47 an hour and are asking for a $5 an hour raise by April to return to work.
Bus driver Paul Gabriel said people working at fast food restaurants make more than the bus drivers at Alfred Almond do.
“They don’t want me going down the road thinking about maybe I could be working over at Burger King for 75 cents an hour more,” said Gabriel.
In September a new contract agreement with the school district and union representatives was written; with the new contract agreement, over the next three years bus drivers would receive a pay increase totaling $21.47 an hour. This pay would come in three separate raises. The first year, pay would increase to $18.47 an hour, the second year it would increase to $20.47 an hour and the third year pay would top out at $21.47 an hour.
While drivers feel that this is a step in the right direction, they say it is not enough.
“What we are going to get for a pay raise is an extra three dollars an hour, that's not enough to bring us up, I mean the cost of living is the highest it has been in 25 years,” said Gabriel.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of all items has risen by 5.8% since November of 2001, with a sharp increase starting in May of 2020.
Drivers also said they had very little say in the new contract agreement that was signed in September. For example, Gabriel said drivers would be forced against their will to work holidays if the district needed, ultimately impacting drivers' personal lives.
While the rate of pay was the focus of the ‘sick-out’, Gabriel sighted poor communications as well. There were several times where Gabriel stopped to pick up children that, unbeknownst to him, had moved out of the area; so he was making extra stops for no reason.
All drivers involved stressed how much they love being a part of the children’s lives and they felt horrible for disrupting their educational experience but they hoped that the parents would understand why this needed to be done.
“That is why I am here with you or you are here with me, is so these parents will understand why he did this and I think they would be on our side and realize that, yes the school bus drivers are very important,” said Gabriel.
WENY News reached out to Superintendent Tracie Bliven as well as Union representative Tracey More and received no response.
At noon, on Facebook, the school posted that it was looking for bus drivers.
Following the Facebook post, at around 4PM, bus driver Aaron Kautz tells WENY News was fired over the phone. The district cited an unrelated issue from back in April, where he was put on a five year media probationary period. He says the district told him he violated the terms of that probationary period, and was terminated.
A meeting is scheduled for this Friday between the district, union representatives and drivers.The bus drivers did state that if wishes are not met, they will be looking for new jobs elsewhere leaving Alfred Almond Central in a tight position as school districts across the country continue to struggle with staffing shortages.