Updated: September 13, 2021 06:46 PM
Created: September 13, 2021 07:38 AM
Monday, school bus drivers and union leaders met and spoke out about a bus driver shortage in the state.
It's an issue 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has been following as thousands of students and parents have to re-route how to get to and from school.
Last week, Robbinsdale Area Schools announced nearly 40 bus routes were canceled. Monday, the bus drivers' union is coming together to talk about the problems seen industry-wide and what it will take to find solutions to make kids who need it have a safe ride to school every day.
"As we get back more and more into in-person learning, the challenges for transportation have grown exponentially," Jim Kelley, a bus driver for Kottke's Bus Service, said. "We have been out hanging flyers, we have been talking to people in groups, we have attended community functions explaining the benefits and what we can offer, and it's substantial."
Kottke's Bus Service is one of several bus companies across the state struggling to find enough drivers.
The union says pandemic concerns paired with low pay and exclusion from unemployment insurance have made it challenging to recruit and retain drivers.
Companies are now offering hefty signing bonuses and, in some cases, flying people in from other states to get them trained and licensed to be Minnesota bus drivers.
Teresa Jakubowski, a bus driver, said, "This driver shortage problem has been steadily growing over the years. The pandemic accelerated it and now the public is painfully aware of it."
She says the lack of financial stability is pushing drivers away.
"We should be valued full-time employees with a livable wage," Jakubowski said.
In addition to an increase in hourly wage, drivers want a change in state law that would allow them to collect unemployment when they're laid off over the summer.
"This is not a bus driver shortage, this is a bus driver crisis," Gus Froemke, of Teamsters Local 320, said.
"What kind of career can somebody go into where they're only working 9 months a year and then they're laid off and then they can't collect unemployment insurance?" he asked.
Froemke said he's also concerned with how many cab drivers are taking kids to school this year. Minneapolis Public Schools said it's used cabs in previous years but not for "standard to-and-from transportation for general ed purposes until this year with the driver shortage."
"If you're on the school board or if you're an administrator and I'm pushing your buttons right now, good, I hope I'm pushing your buttons because you need to come to the table," Kelly Gibbons, the executive director of SEIU Local 284, said.
In the meantime, districts are asking parents for their patience as they work with bus companies to figure out these shortages.
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