Bus Drivers Go On Strike
By: Allison Hurley
Since the start of the school year, Wake County has struggled to hire bus drivers. On Thursday, October 29 drivers across the county warned of a possible sickout the following day and they followed through.
The United States has been suffering a labor shortage for several months now. As factories, grocery stores, and restaurants scramble to hire employees, schools have had difficulty hiring bus drivers. Wake County increased bus driver wages from $12.75 to $15 an hour and offered signing bonuses. Nonetheless, Wake County had 139 bus driver vacancies in September.
Due to the unbalanced supply and demand of bus drivers, Wake County had to redraw many routes, causing students to get home much later than usual. Even still, many drivers were forced to take on three to four additional bus routes, without receiving any extra payment for the extra routes. Some drivers had planned to meet with the School Board to discuss issues disciplining students and low wages, but others took matters into their own hands by planning the sickout. On Friday, October 30 upwards of 100 bus drivers across the county called in sick in protest.
When word of Friday’s potential sickout spread, on Thursday, Wake County warned parents to prepare to drive their students to and from school in the event their bus did not show. This accommodation is easy for some, but many students had to rely on friends for a ride. This problem only increased for elementary and middle schools in Wake County as, unlike high school, the students cannot drive themselves. Wake County Schools released the following statement Friday morning:
“Families, Many of the school district’s bus routes are not running this morning. We apologize for the inconvenience. Check your child’s bus route. You will need to provide transportation this morning and make plans for this afternoon if the route is not covered. Please check social media and school web sites for updates.”
Many students reported having to get a ride in the morning and afternoon because both times their bus failed to show. This was a significant inconvenience for many students, but some believe it was acceptable due to the poor conditions the bus drivers work under, while others think the situation could have been handled in a more professional manner. Additionally, an anonymous Apex staff member called the protest “justified.”
In most circumstances where employees have concerns that require attention from superiors they may go to a union to help address the issues. However, North Carolina only has the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), which does not include bus drivers. Moreover, the unions in North Carolina have many restrictions and little power due to the 1947 Right-to-Work Law, which forbids unions from being used as a bargaining agent. It is expected that this problem may very well persist in the days to come if the county and the bus drivers do not meet to address the drivers’ concerns or make a compromise. Parents and students are expected to prepare to find alternative transportation for the time being.