ATU Local 256 seeks new equipment, competitive wages for Elk Grove Unified bus drivers

Expressing their desire to improve transit conditions for students and improve wages for their members, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 256 ...

Expressing their desire to improve transit conditions for students and improve wages for their members, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 256 is in negotiation with the Elk Grove Unified School District. 

The local, which represents over 100 drivers in the district, had a three-year contract that was extended in 2020 for one year. That one-year extension ended June 30, and the union and the district have been involved in ongoing negotiations.

Speaking for membership, Sacramento-based ATU Local 256 president Ralph Niz said the foremost consideration is the safe transportation of district students. Additionally, the union seeks to increase wages for drivers, which are among the lowest in the region. 

Niz said much of the district's bus fleet is outdated, with some units dating to 1996 and lack air conditioning. He noted a fire occurred last week on one of the district's older buses. 
This EGUSD school bus caught on fire
on Friday, September 10. 

"It was a bus for special education students, and thank god it was empty at the time," Niz said.

Also commenting on the ongoing negotiations, ATU attorney Anthony Booth stressed that the union has continued talks.  

"We still have steps to go, we are still negotiating in good faith," Booth said.

One group of active parents, the EGUSD Parent Coalition, has expressed many of the same concerns about student transportation issues. Along with Booth and Niz, members from the coalition spoke at last week's EGUSD meeting.

In an email, EGUSD Parent Coalition president Erin Sommers without citing union wage and working condition demands, said the district needs to upgrade its fleet and address driver shortages. The group asks "the district to address these issues as soon as possible by attracting more drivers and improving communication with families."

Sommers also addressed the fleet's age saying, "We have continuously heard from our membership that transportation to/from school has been inadequate. For many, they cannot rely on the busses to get their kids to school on time and consistently. In addition, very few busses have air conditioning and many are older busses that need to be replaced. Parents are concerned about the safety of their children and reliability of transportation provided by EGUSD." 

According to information provided by ATU and conveyed at last week's meeting by Booth and Niz,  EGUSD drivers are among the lowest-paid school bus drivers in the region, which exasperates the driver shortages. The union seeks a 20-percent pay hike that would bring EGUSD school bus driver wages in line with other districts. (see chart above)

One of the district's school bus drivers speaking at last week's meeting was Dawn Ellen Cooley. A 22-year district veteran, Cooley appealed to the trustees to increase wages to retain school bus drivers and noted the highly regulated and licensed workers as new hires make less than some fast-food workers. 

"With respect to fast food workers, we are not flipping hamburger patties here, ladies and gentlemen," Cooley said. "We are transporting this community's future every day." 

See Cooley's entire commentary below. 

The district did not respond to a request to comment on the negotiations and parental concerns. 

Although they discussed the possibility of a strike with support from other unions during the September 7 trustee meeting, Booth and Niz stressed that talks continue. They also expressed a desire to help the district solve their multitude of transportation problems, not just school bus driver shortages.

"The union is willing to work with the district," Niz said. "That will solve a good deal of their problems." 

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