Tacoma bus drivers for special needs students call in sick for third day
Almost two-dozen Tacoma school bus drivers who serve students with special needs called in sick for the third time in as many days on Wednesday, in protest of low pay and long hours.
A handful of special needs students have been left without since Monday. One driver, who asked that they not to be named, said they took action because they’re overworked and underpaid.
“We are putting our students at risk driving the way we are — fatigued, overworked, driving too fast trying to get to school because we’re tired of getting yelled at by the teachers,” they told KIRO Radio.
The unnamed driver went on to cite low morale as one of the driving factors, and claimed that the issue “is not just unique to Tacoma, it’s nationwide.”
“We can go to work in the Tacoma school district and deliver papers and file cabinets and be paid more than driving these special needs children,” theye claimed.
Tacoma district spokesman Dan Voelpel said the remaining drivers worked longer to pick up students, while some kids didn’t get a ride at all. Even the district’s transportation director, who has a commercial license to drive a bus, filled in behind the wheel.
The bigger issue that Voelpel cites, though, is the effect this is having on the children left at their respective bus stops without a ride.
“They require special assistance to and from school — many of them need their routines to feel safe, and this is definitely a disruption to their routines,” he said. The school district said this affects about 350 students in total.
Voelpel also noted that drivers got a raise this fall that was “greater than the negotiated agreement,” as part of a contract that runs through 2020.
“I am sure there will be conversations between our district leadership and the union leadership to try and make sure that the drivers are back to work and honoring their contract,” Voelpel said.
However long the sick-out lasts, it will be operating without union support. The union representing the bus drivers told KIRO 7’s Rob Munoz, it is “not involved, nor does it condone any coordinated, unauthorized work stoppage.”
Tacoma’s not the only city struggling with bus drivers
Seattle is currently suffering through its own issues related to school bus drivers — Seattle Public Schools is going through a driver shortage that’s led to multiple delays across the city.
First Student, the company that provides and manages Seattle’s school buses, told The Seattle Times that as of September, there were 339 bus drivers operating in the district’s 369 routes. The goal is to have at least one driver per route.
While First Student isn’t responsible for the buses or drivers involved in this latest incident in Tacoma, Seattle’s own problems do seem to speak to a larger, widespread issue within the industry.