School bus drivers protest pay cuts

Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 11:45pm

A roomful of angry Metro school bus drivers packed Tuesday’s school board meeting, voicing displeasure over Schools Director Jesse Register’s decision to cut their workday by an hour, outlined in the district’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year.

Several bus drivers held handmade signs, while others wore union T-shirts, as several longtime drivers made their way up to the podium where they made impassioned cases against Register’s $633 million proposed budget, which seeks to reduce the schedules of the system’s 595 bus drivers from eight to seven hours.

The crux of their argument: Why target the district’s lowest earning employees –– support staff employees –– to tackle the district’s projected $35 million shortfall, instead of making cuts across the board?

“It was quoted that the cuts are because of the economy,” Mary Eady, a bus driver for 35 years and president of the local steelworkers union, told Register and the nine-member board. “Why does the economy affect only the lowest paid employees, who are asked to bite the bullet and keep their jobs?”

While Register has called the cuts a tough choice, he’s made clear he didn’t want to replicate last year’s move to lay off 150 teachers. Register has said the proposed budget protects in-class instruction.

Reducing the number of paid hours for bus drivers is expected to net $2.5 million in savings. Combined with slashing 24 central office positions and outsourcing school custodial services, total cuts have been tallied at $10.9 million.

“It’s hard,” Register said of the proposed hour-cut for bus drivers. “But we are in a very tough economy. It was hard to make decisions last year to cut employees, and we have reduced the number of employees that will be working in the central office. All of that’s tough.”

Bus drivers who spoke up Tuesday pointed out they only get paid for 10 months of work per year, forcing most to turn to part-time summer jobs. On top of that, they questioned how retirement benefits could change under their revamped pay structure.

“If teachers are the backbone of the school system then school bus drivers, custodians and other support staff are the blood, sweat and tears of the system,” said Eric Warfield, a bus driver for 18 years. “I guess I’ll have to find me a new job in your new convention center.”

The crowd erupted in applause.

Register has said bus drivers right now are being paid for eights hours of work when they only drive around seven hours each day. He said supervisors have determined that the proposed work-cut should still give drivers time to perform their jobs.

“It’s a way to get closer to actual time worked than what the present agreement calls for,” Register said. “I think we’re very safe with the estimates that we have made.”

But several bus drivers told the board and Register that their workdays far exceed eight hours when taking into account maintenance work, cleanup and gas fill-ups of buses, along with other responsibilities.

Tuesday’s showing was a precursor to the scene that’s likely to unfold Thursday at 5:30 p.m. when the board entertains a public hearing on the budget.

7 Comments on this post:

By: artsmart on 3/10/10 at 6:08

I understand needing to make cuts but the disconnect Register and the rest of the system is just typical. I believe administrators are the only group to have gotten raises over the last 2 years and yet they are protected again. If Register was a real leader he would have taken a pay cut during this next year as well. This noise that he has a contract is just an excuse. We all know if he was willing to take a paycut no one would turn him down. It would be nice to see real leader in this position just once.

By: Kosh III on 3/10/10 at 7:40

"This noise that he has a contract is just an excuse. "

Indeed. If he got another job, he'd break his contract in a flash.

Once again, the low paid hard working people get the shaft while the elite administrators sacrifice nothing.

By: localboy on 3/10/10 at 8:49

"Register has said bus drivers right now are being paid for eights hours of work when they only drive around seven hours each day"

"But several bus drivers told the board and Register that their workdays far exceed eight hours when taking into account maintenance work, cleanup and gas fill-ups of buses, along with other responsibilities."

Well, then, under this proposal drivers won't do these things for free; if the director thinks that they are being paid for seven hours of driving, then that is all the driver should do. Maintenance and cleanup will either be needed to be done by other personnel, let go until complaints are made and the board steps in, or pay the drivers for their time spent on non-driving duties. Any job description that included the non-driving duties would seem to be null and void, as according to the new policy they will be paid for seven hours of driving only.

By: MamaG on 3/10/10 at 9:38

I hate this is happening to them but they should at least be thankful they even have a job at all. Maybe their days wouldn't be so long if they quit lolly-gaggin around, conversing with parents at bus stops sometimes too.

By: timeforsolutions on 3/10/10 at 12:39

Look, we all feel for the classified employees that will be affected, but the bottom line is that classroom instruction makes the greatest impact on student success. Can these good bus drivers, custodians, and maintenance staff have a positive impact on children? Absolutely; many do. But the greatest impact comes in the classroom, where the student spends most of their day. Indeed, some children spend more time with teachers than with parents. Metro Schools must make the decision to cut staff without hurting student success, and this is unfortunately the least harmful option.

By: chakracon on 3/10/10 at 1:37

Tennesse spends more and allows more for the Department of Transportation than it does education for children and adults in this state. The priorities of the "leaders" here are pathetic... When the "leaders" are required to make budget cuts, it seems that they always start taking away from people who have little or nothing. Why is every thing so assbackwards?

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