Michigan Education Association

Privatization threatens Northwest bus drivers

JACKSON – Just weeks after settling a three-year contract with the union representing school bus drivers and mechanics, some Northwest school officials are considering outsourcing those jobs to a private company.

At stake for the 29 transportation workers, who have a near-spotless driving record, are wages, health insurance, and a secure retirement. The district appears to be targeting health insurance provided to the employees, whose annual wages of about $12,000 to $13,000 are so low that many are forced to work an extra job – or two – just to make ends meet.

In a hastily called union meeting in the bus garage Dec. 2, Superintendent Emily Kress-Goodwin told transportation workers that their insurance costs $400,000 a year. The board is already mulling budget cuts for next year – and Kress-Goodwin said she’s asked the director of operations (who is her husband) to trim $250,000 from next year’s budget.

Union members have agreed to numerous health insurance concessions in recent contracts, including the settlement reached this fall, said Polly Snow, a driver and union leader. Members of the Northwest Education Support Personnel Association, which includes aides, food service employees, and child care workers, contribute toward their insurance premiums and pay higher co-pays for prescriptions, doctor visits, and other services.

The transportation workers are understandably concerned about losing their jobs to outside workers.

“It hurts to even think that you would think of privatizing,” driver Karolyn Ray told Kress-Goodwin. “Look at us. Every day, all day long we are here. We’re not sloughing off. Look at our record.”

In addition to excellent driving records, the transportation crew has repeatedly earned perfect inspection scores from the Michigan State Police.

Privatization reared its ugly head in Northwest just recently. Having settled their contract, the drivers thought their jobs were safe.

But Northwest school board members, like those in many other districts, may make further program and staff cuts in response to unstable state funding. The Northwest board will work on budget cuts for next fiscal year in January. The list of proposed cuts for next year will include hiring a private company to operate the transportation department, Kress-Goodwin said.



Updated: December 7, 2009 3:21 PM

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