The Ottumwa Courier


September 16, 2013

Driving a hard bargain

OTTUMWA — The school bus company says they're offering a big pay raise. The drivers are saying their complaint is not about money.

In the Ottumwa school district, bus drivers and buses are supplied by a contractor, Southern Iowa Transit. That company owns the school buses. When their contract runs out, they offer a bid to the district, which the district can accept or decline. In other southeast Iowa districts, the tendency is for the schools to hire their own bus drivers. As support personnel, their benefits packages are based on those of other employees, like teachers or teacher associates.

Ottumwa bus drivers and Southern Iowa Transit appear to be facing challenging negotiations. Now that those drivers have unionized, a union negotiator acts to get the drivers a compensation package they consider acceptable. The drivers say they don't want a "disruption in service" but that there is a possibility that could happen if a contract isn't agreed upon.

Both the company and the union sent the Courier different figures for what surrounding districts pay their drivers. Yet checking public records showed both lists were correct: The company numbers show that when figuring pay hourly, Ottumwa pays toward the top of the list. The union numbers show that when looking at salary annually, Ottumwa pays at the lower end of the list.

Southern Iowa Transit says they have offered a negotiated pay increase of 18 percent.

But that's not the main issue, drivers said. At recent meeting, drivers said when it comes to items like time off, they are way behind. The company does not dispute the union claim that benefits are lower than neighboring districts.

In general, SIT company figures show if a part-time employee isn't working, they aren't getting paid. But drivers at a recent school board meeting said it's a matter of respect. As one example, they said, if a bus driver is going to a funeral for a loved one or taking a couple of days to grieve, shouldn't they be paid? They may be part-time workers, but so are drivers in other, smaller communities.

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