State records show Pride Transportation violated labor laws for years

A school bus company with a history of safety problems could now be shut down for violating labor laws.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS started investigating Pride Transportation last year after police say the company refused to answer questions when a bus with elementary school students on board disappeared for several hours in Brooklyn Park.

Reports obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS revealed the company had also been operating buses with safety issues, such as bad brakes and broken emergency doors. Now, the company could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for illegally operating without workers’ compensation.

After a man rear-ended a school bus in Roseville at the end of January, bus driver Annette Wilson called her employer, Pride Transportation, to ask if their workers’ compensation plan would cover her back injuries.

"He said, ‘How about if I offer you $1,000?’" Wilson told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, referring to an under-the-table offer she says the Pride Transportation made her.

But the $1,000 wouldn’t have covered Wilson’s medical bills.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS dug into records at the Department of Labor and Industry and found Pride Transportation was running without workers’ compensation insurance for more than three years. State records show the company only bought workers’ compensation on Feb. 6, after Wilson contacted 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

The DLI confirmed Pride Transportation was uninsured from Jan. 12, 2017, until Feb. 6, 2020. The company briefly had workers’ compensation coverage from Aug. 30, 2016, until Aug. 30, 2017, but canceled its workers’ compensation plan on Jan. 11, 2017.

After talking to staff at the company’s Maple Grove location, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the company’s attorneys for comment.

Daniel L.M. Kennedy said in an email to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that Pride Transportation is currently fully compliant and is working to learn more about past compliance.

Since opening in 2016, this isn’t the first time Pride Transportation has been in trouble. In September, 5 INVESTIGATES found the company has one of the worst safety records in Minnesota, including dozens of failed inspections.

"I’ve never seen a school bus company like this before," said Wilson, who no longer works for the company.

And now the company could be facing thousands of dollars in fines for every week they put drivers like Wilson behind the wheel without workers’ compensation.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked DLI Commissioner Nancy Leppink if a school bus company that has students and drivers would meet any exceptions to operate without workers’ compensation.

"I don’t believe so," said Leppink. "I think that they would be the classic type of employer that would need to have workers’ compensation coverage."

Leppink could not confirm whether Pride Transportation is under investigation but said the agency investigates anytime an employee files a complaint.

Wilson said she’s filed a complaint and it has been turned over to the DLI’s "special compensation fund," which was established to help injured workers whose employers do not have insurance. Employees must make requests to the fund to pay their benefits for work injuries.

Leppink said DLI does its best to monitor new companies and also send out notices about labor laws.

"When we find an employer who’s not complied with the workers’ compensation laws, very often they have not complied with other laws like occupational safety and health, unemployment insurance, like minimum wage and overtime," said Leppink. "Therefore, that’s a significant issue, it also creates an unleveled playing field for the good employers who are following the rules."