We bus drivers would like to give a statement on behalf of ourselves, the ones that actually sit behind the wheel of these buses.
First of all, we love our kids. We see them everyday, their smiles, their tears, their growth. Most of us have driven the same routes for years and have watched kindergarten students graduate and then years later drive their children to school.
We are up at 5am everyday to be on time to pick the kids up. Even when it snows and we risk our lives to get to work on time just to find out the district finally decided to close and if we didn’t make it in time, we would not be paid for the day. Even a minute late cost us a day’s pay. These districts do what they want when they want and never think about us the bus drivers that lose money when they make split decisions to close schools or take their time putting routes together and leave our company scrambling to fill routes at the last minute.
This past summer a lot of us had to work instead of taking a much needed break. We worked late to cover sports charters because of the virus that took away from the previous year. Then to be told everyone has to work because of the last-minute decision to offer summer school to make up for in-person classes that students fell behind on. We were all left wondering what we would be doing for the summer. We are allowed to take off the summer if we are not needed and depending on the seniority list, you knew you could take off, but that, again at the last minute was taken away because of the districts dragging their feet and adding alot of routes that needed to be covered.
Thanks to the virus and last minute rules given by the state concerning social distancing on buses, many routes were broken up to accommodate.
Huntington Coach bent over backwards and scrambled to fill runs and they did. On top of district work, which is usually scarce, there are camp runs. Those runs are not isolated to one area. Some go as far as Brooklyn and just for one kid to get to the camp of their choice. The rest are all over the Island.
As bus drivers we have not felt safe driving the buses because we have nothing but a mask and open windows. Do you know how hot it gets on a bus? Do you know how cold it gets on a bus? But what else could we do. We did our jobs, collected our checks and reported back the next day.
There has been a bus driver shortage for years. Most of the people drive buses because it fills their time or just extra money even though they have pensions. Some used to do it to provide health insurance for the family. Well guess what, our health insurance is over $200 a week for a single person and over $400 for a family. That leaves nothing to take home at the end of the week.
There are no pensions at a private company. At the end of the road, you get a 401k that might not be much given the state of the financial world. Our company matches what we put in so it’s worth it, but not guaranteed in the end when we retire.
Huntington Coach is not the villain here. They sacrificed one district to save many jobs. Imagine all the other districts like Syosset or Cold Spring Harbor giving the contract to another company because Coach could not fill the routes? It’s an unfair tug of war and the district that pays more wins.
Is that fair? No but other districts require more drivers for late runs and charters. After sports games students get driven home, even though the parents are home. That can be just one kid or a few, but that district pays for that. Huntington does not. Those kids are left to walk home in the dark or maybe if their parents are home or another teammate drives them.
The problem is that there isn’t much incentive to drive a bus. Imagine being responsible for the lives of children? Bus drivers go through alot of training that doesn’t end just because you pass your road test. There are yearly classes and certifications too. Also passing a medical exam.
The State of New York needs to wake up here. Offer us pensions to drive the buses. Offer us healthcare we can afford. Offer us a decent salary. It should not be all on a family-owned company that is expected to run things like the old days. They just legalized marijuana. We get drug tested. Does anyone think that the younger generations will be bus drivers knowing that they will be subjected to random drug tests? No. The DOT changed the way the CDL road test is given. Now it’s looking under the hood for things that our mechanics are responsible for. We are not even allowed to open the hood. Why would we?
Bus drivers have to have a clean license and record to be allowed to drive in certain districts. If we even look at a parent the wrong way we can be kicked out of a district even if it was proven that no wrong doing took place. Those unfair removal from the districts is one of the major reasons there is a shortage. We have no recourse to defend ourselves at all. Huntington Coach has a union but that union is run by employees. We pay our dues to the Steel Workers Union and do not get the same backings or benefits as they do. Our union members work for the company and can be fired just as we can be.
In closing, there are many things that need to be faced instead of bashing a company. Perhaps the solution needs to be a time change. Does it really matter what time school starts? Perhaps Huntington should start an hour later and go home later. Perhaps the kids that live across the street from the school should walk to school. You know mix the old ways with the new ways. Perhaps the wealthy districts that have nannies available to drive the kids to school lose some of their routes. Why is a route that has 40 stops, but only picks up two or three kids running when the parents drive them to school?
We could go on and on about the real issues here and perhaps someone may listen and take action to help solve the problem. In the meantime, we will be back at work doing our jobs hoping and praying we still have then in a few weeks.