Savannah-Chatham bus driver strike continues, drivers call out again Tuesday

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 6:22 AM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - More than 40 bus drivers with the school system called out again Tuesday. Bus drivers and monitors were back out on Gamble Road in protest to make their voices heard.

The school district says that’s around 20 percent of the drivers in the district. But it’s slightly less than the number that called out on Friday.

Concerns about safety protocols on the bus as well as their pay schedule are the main issues the group hopes to get a resolution with the school district.

Protest organizers say they encouraged some drivers to still go on their routes because they don’t want this to impact the kids, but they say the district has left them no choice.

“We love our job, but we need the community to get behind us doing it safely. It’s not just for us but it’s for the families, for the communities and we are sorry about the inconvenience. We did tell some more people to get on the buses so that can help out which made us take a hit in our numbers but we will take that hit to get those kids to school but also stand so that our points still get across,” SCCPSS bus driver Kendrick Banks said.

There is a meeting scheduled Tuesday afternoon with the bus driver union but not all drivers are union members. If there is still no change, drivers and monitors plan to be out again Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday.

The school district says its working to pull other drivers to get all the bus routes covered.

SCCPSS released a statement to WTOC Tuesday morning saying:

“Due to staff shortages, some bus routes may be delayed this morning. 45 drivers are out today. All transportation staff and other personnel who have clearance to drive are working to cover routes. Parents should be prepared for the possibility of delays. SCCPSS apologizes for the disruption the absence of these drivers may have caused to certain routes. The district continues to work to maximize all available resources to ensure on time arrivals.”

A parent said some parents are coming up with ride share groups in their neighborhoods and making Facebook pages with other parents who have kids riding the same bus.

The parent said she understands the bus drivers’ frustration and the pandemic is just bringing issues that already existed with the transportation system to light. Her biggest concern is safety on the buses, which is why her daughter hasn’t ridden the bus this school year.

“We need to go back to the drawing board and re-assess what’s happening right now because now it’s not working for really anyone. It’s not working for the drivers; it’s not working for the parents. The buses are delayed. Another concern of my daughter was in the very beginning of school they were sitting for an hour and a half just waiting for all the students to arrive. That’s not productive,” West Chatham County parent Latricia Brown said.

SCCPSS released the following statement Tuesday evening:

“SCCPSS continues work to overcome staffing issues among bus drivers that created transportation delays on Friday, September 3, 3021 and again today. An already understaffed department has been hindered by dozens of drivers unexpectedly calling out. Some of those drivers have protested outside our Gamble Road maintenance facility, speaking out regarding concerns over pay, retirement, and work conditions.

As a government agency, Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools is precluded from negotiating with a union or any other employee group. However, the district is always willing to listen to concerns brought by employees to administrators through the appropriate channels. Some of the concerns being publicly brought forward by drivers in the past week have not previously been brought to administration in an official capacity.

Pay has been brought up as an issue in various ways dating back to 2016 and each time the District has considered concerns. The district has taken specific steps to assist drivers multiple times since 2016, in addition to annual cost of living and step increases that every employee of the district receives.

In 2016, all drivers had their pay grade increased by two steps, giving drivers a $2 to $3 per hour raise. Additionally, some drivers have been transitioned from five hour per day shifts to 8 hours per day. This past June, at the end of the previous fiscal year, the district changed the way in which years of experience were calculated from a 5 to 1, to a 2 to 1 formula which gave most drivers a four or five step increase and a significant raise based on those years of experience.

In addition, though each district employee received two retention supplements over the past school year related to the COVID pandemic, SCCPSS bus drivers received an additional retention supplement of $500 just last week that was not provided to other district employees.

COVID-related safety concerns have also been voiced by drivers. Complaints that contact tracing is not being done for bus riders/drivers are not true. The contact tracing process is conducted the same among bus riders/drivers as it is among students in the classroom. Close contacts are reached out to and required to quarantine based on bus seating charts and viewing video from buses to ensure those within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more are identified.

In addition, masks are required to be worn on district transportation. A student’s bus riding privileges may be suspended or revoked for non-compliance with the mask requirement. There are a limited number of students with disabilities who are permitted to ride without a mask as an accommodation.

Concerns about overcrowded buses are investigated as soon as a complaint is received. One complaint was received in late August. It was looked into, but the bus was not found to be overcrowded. There have been some buses running closer to capacity due to a driver shortage and splitting loads of students where possible. That is a situation that should continue to improve as more drivers become available. The district already has four more drivers working than we started the school year with and seven more scheduled to complete training and begin driving this month.

The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System has approximately 5600 employees. The district must take all employees into consideration when making decisions on best practices. SCCPSS apologizes for the disruption the absence of these drivers may have caused to certain routes. The district continues to work to maximize all available resources to ensure on time arrivals.”

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