The Ottumwa Courier

Education

September 10, 2013

Union bus drivers want school district support

OTTUMWA — A union representing school district bus drivers is reaching out to the school board for help in negotiations with the bus company the district uses for transportation services.

Drivers attended the school board meeting this week to explain what they are asking for from Southern Iowa Transit, which, for several years, has been the district's busing service. Several drivers addressed the board for about three minutes each during the “communication with the public” portion of the meeting. The school bus drivers formed a union in February, Jon Thomas said.

The way negotiations are going now, "there definitely could be a disruption in service,” said Thomas, a Des Moines organizer and business agent for Teamsters Local 238.

That’s not what they want, he said, but if it does happen, it would impact more than just parents of school-aged children.

“This would affect 90 percent of the community,” said one speaker.

Several said salary isn’t their biggest concern. Thomas told the board one major sticking point is that the company won't give employees three days of paid bereavement leave. Negotiations have managed to get Southern Iowa Transit to one paid day and two unpaid days when an immediate family member of an employee dies.

This trouble with contract negotiations is about respect, Thomas and the drivers said. That includes fairness in discipline and other non-monetary issues.

One of the drivers told the school board how bus drivers care about the children and the parents. The kids run up and say hello when they see their driver out in public.

In fact, a speaker Monday night said he had heard a rumor circulating before school started. It implied Ottumwa bus drivers would just refuse to drive on the first day of school. This group wouldn't do that to the kids, he said, because that's who would have suffered. He explained that suddenly “not showing up” isn’t an option because the drivers are not the kind of people to leave their students standing on the corner, waiting and waiting for a bus that never arrives.

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