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The ATU: Improved pay and benefits critical to addressing school bus worker shortage

Private contractors have failed to invest in school bus workers

Silver Spring, MD - As schools and students return to in-person learning this fall, the school bus driver shortage has turned into a serious issue, and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the largest transit union in North America, says improved pay and benefits are critical to addressing this continuing problem.

In the current job market, Commercial Driver License (CDL) workers have more lucrative job opportunities that offer significantly better pay and benefits than the school bus industry.

"We understand the frustration of parents not having school buses available to take their kids to school. We feel it too," said ATU International President John Costa. "How to fix the shortage is not a secret. School bus companies need to offer better pay and benefits to attract and retain qualified workers and compete in this market where CDL workers are in high demand. It's a simple solution that needs to be addressed."

Representing more than 12,000 school bus workers in New York City and across the state, ATU Local 1181-New York, NY, President Michael Cordiello says the COVID-19 pandemic caused a large number of school bus drivers to retire and some may have found other jobs, contributing to the school bus worker shortage. "Before the pandemic for every school bus employee that retired four were hired. In 2020, we had a 20% increase in people retiring and fewer workers were hired," Cordiello said. "Some of our older bus drivers were afraid to get back on the bus because they feared they might catch the virus. Some left because there were better job opportunities with less risk."

In addition, the ATU points out private school bus contractors are to blame for focusing on the bottom line rather than investing in boosting worker pay and benefits to help deal with this growing shortage of school bus workers.

"These private school bus contractors are looking for the cheapest labor possible and refusing to offer competitive pay and benefits," Costa continued. "This is not a part-time job. The hours are tough, and the job of transporting kids to and from school and other school activities is more than just driving a bus.  Until these school bus companies offer the pay, health care, and other incentives that will attract quality CDL drivers, we will continue to see these shortages in this industry."

The ATU is calling on all school districts and school bus companies to pursue ways to offer more benefits to school bus workers, including signing and retention bonuses and the expansion of benefits and pay. Schools have federal and state funds that can be used to provide these benefits without taking on all of the costs at the local level.