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Drivers at impasse West Genesee district over bus drivers' contracts

School buses parked on the side of the road (Photo: CNY Central)
School buses parked on the side of the road (Photo: CNY Central)
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The West Genesee Central School District Superintendent says they are committed to finding a contract for bus drivers ahead of the next school year as drivers and the district are at an impasse and heading into mediation with a state agency.

Bus drivers are demanding better pay and better benefits from the district.

One of the biggest sticking points for drivers is that those doing the same job in other districts are making more per hour.

The union representing drivers says 18 have left West Genesee in recent weeks and more will follow if they can't meet contract demands.

The superintendent says a sign seen in front of a school in the district asking for bus drivers is nothing new, as drivers are always in demand.

What is new this year is the union representing the bus drivers and the district filing a joint declaration of impasse with the state, meaning a third party is getting involved, a process that could take months – stretching into the new school year.

Veteran bus drivers say for rookies there are reasons to avoid West Genesee.

“The wage is a lot lower than the other surrounding districts,” said West Genesee Bus Driver Carolyn Sammon. “That’s where the big problem is.”

Wage and benefits, which don’t kick in at what drivers say is affordable until they have a 29-hour-a-week route.

That is rare and in other districts, the benchmark is 20 hours.

“We want to come up with a successful contract, but we want to do so in a fiscally responsible way,” said West Genesee Central School District Superintendent David Bills.

Superintendent Bill says they have been working to find common ground in talks with the drivers’ union since last summer.

The district offered a contract that union leaders agreed to, but it was voted down by the drivers and attendants.

“It wasn’t ratified and that’s unfortunate,” said Superintendent Bills.

That contract would raise wages by 25% over the next four years and drop the cheaper benefits package hours requirement from 29 to 23 hours.

When asked why drivers should agree to the contract when they could make more in other districts, the superintendent said, “I’m not sure that that’s exactly true. There are a lot of different components to a contract. It’s perfectly normal to compare from district to district but remember, even with just the things I mentioned; salary, the various benefits, there’s going to be different levels. Do we want to be competitive? We do. Do I hear members saying we need to increase some of those and we need to make sure we increase our starting rates, absolutely. We’re committed to that.”

The superintendent says at the time, it was the district’s best offer.

When asked how he will avoid losing drivers to other districts, Superintendent Bills said, “Again, to trust the process and know that we’re working together. Collective bargaining is part of our business; it takes time. I think if they saw all the leadership that’s at the table...We are working for the common good and we can get this done, we have to get it done for our kids and our community.”

The arbitration process with the state includes fact-finding and negotiations, which could take months.

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Looking ahead to the next school year, the superintendent says he can't make any firm commitments but is confident they will find an agreeable contract.

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