School bus drivers in Cedar Rapids are worried about low staffing brought on by noncompetitive wages, and say a recent cyberattack on the district has made things worse just weeks before school starts. They can agree on one thing: They just want to be able to come together and negotiate a contract again.
But after the Iowa Legislature in 2017 limited collective bargaining for public unions, drivers and their Teamsters union say the school board went even further, undermining their benefits, work schedule and even safety procedures.
So weeks before school is slated to start Aug. 23, those drivers were joined by a couple dozen other Teamsters at Monday’s Cedar Rapids Community School District board meeting to make their concerns known.
Mike Dighcon, who has driven school bus for Cedar Rapids for 12 years, summed up his main problem with drivers’ contract.
“There isn’t one, basically,” he said. “They (the school board) do what they want to do, and we accept it.”
The contract was last negotiated by the previous school board, not the current one, Jesse Case with the Teamsters said during the public comment portion of the meeting. That board went beyond what the Legislature required, removing clauses around school closures, probationary periods, personal illness and disability leave, holidays, recall rights and health and safety, and not allowing the union to have a say at all.
“There’s 40 years of labor relations history in this district that is now broken,” Case said.
Sally Schaab has driven a van for special pickups, such as transporting the district’s homeless students, since 2019. She told the board she and other drivers suffered financially after a July cyberattack on the district meant drivers lost a week of pay because they couldn’t transport students to summer school.
“It’s one thing to lose pay. But when it was asked if we would be paid, we were informed that we are supplemental employees,” Schaab said. “We were very demoralized.”
Most drivers who showed up to the meeting declined to speak on the record, citing a clause in their contract apparently forbidding district employees from speaking with the media.
Privately, those drivers said their problems also included:
- wages that were less than nearby school districts by a dollar an hour or more;
- long-term staffing shortages that mean bus mechanics have to pick up the extra routes;
- broken buses not getting fixed in a timely manner;
- a lack of bus attendants that can lead to behavioral issues on buses with 60 to 70 children; and
- a computer diagnostic system, and routing system, still offline from the cyberattack.
“There’s a hundred different issues that we could list,” Case said. “It’s all just a reflection of how they think about and treat their employees.”
Though they’re legally prohibited from striking, bus drivers also wondered how “supplemental” they’d be treated if or when there weren’t enough of them for all of the routes in eastern Iowa’s largest school district.
“We’re not ready for the first day of school,” one bus driver said after the meeting. “The school district is lying.”
In a statement provided to Starting Line, the school district said it “has honored every written agreement entered into with the Teamsters,” and said to date they had “not received any grievances” from the union.
“CRCSD has always been and remains committed to supporting all of its employees, including the bus drivers, bus attendants and van drivers who provide an invaluable service to the families within our school community,” the district said in the statement. “Since the Iowa legislature changed the law relating to collective bargaining in 2017, CRCSD has continued to negotiate in good faith with all unions.”
The district further denied they took “steps to ‘strip’ the contract,” saying such changes were “done through the mutual negotiations process.”
“Additionally, any language that was removed from the collective bargaining agreement was put into an employee handbook so that transportation employees continued to receive the same employee benefits they have previously received,” the statement read.
By Amie Rivers
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