‘We need to be heard’: School bus drivers strike over low wages, staff shortages

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, S.C. — Some Chesterfield County school bus drivers are expressing concerns about what they call a shortage of drivers.

One driver told Channel 9 they have been overworked and are not seeing a pay increase.

“We need them to hear us. We need to let them know we are serious, we are valuable employees and we need to be heard,” bus driver Melissa Gaines said.

Gaines said the district has a serious bus driver shortage. She said that has forced many drivers to pick up extra routes, but they still have to get the job done in the same amount of time.

“You drive, you got to be back on the lot at a certain time. If not, your time stops where you are and you’re not getting paid for the extra time that you got to get back,” Gaines said.

The route additions and low wages are part of why drivers went on strike Monday morning at Central High School. Between 10 and 20 drivers showed up at 6:30 a.m.

“Parents, I’m so sorry that it came to this, but we have to,” Gaines told Channel 9 Monday. “We have to do something, we have to start somewhere.”

“We’re not trying to upset the parents, we’re not trying to do this to our children,” another driver said. “I run three routes every morning, covering for other bus drivers.”

Gaines told Channel 9 Friday that bus driver wages are far too low for a job where they are monitoring up to 60 kids at a time while driving.

“We got kids on the bus cutting up and we’re the only ones on the bus,” Gaines said. “We got to have eyes in the back of our head. It’s really a distraction and it’s causing a great problem.”

On Friday, district leaders wouldn’t provide the exact number of bus driver openings to Channel 9. They did say they have had a bit more double routes than normal.

Officials also said starting pay for bus drivers is $10.48 per hour. Pay is $14.34 at 20 years of driving, $14.60 with more than 21 years, and those with 22 years or more make $14.86 an hour.

Leaders said drivers in the district make 17% above the state-recommended bus driver pay rate, but Gaines said it’s not enough.

“If you’ve been driving for 20-plus years, you’ve been dedicated. And I think we deserve more than that,” she said.

District officials also talked about overtime, saying most drivers earn it due to their other employment responsibilities in the district.

Chesterfield County School District released the following statement to Channel 9 in response to the strike:

“Chesterfield County Schools did have some bus drivers in the Pageland area who did not report to drive students on Monday, Dec. 13, apparently upset that recently some drivers had had their number of weekly hours adjusted to align with a state audit. The loss of bus drivers, however, only caused one route not to be run this morning.

“Bus drivers are paid an hourly wage based on the length of their routes. A recent GPS audit of those routes by the state of South Carolina adjusted some bus drivers’ total hours. Due to the audit by the state, some route times were increased, and some route times were decreased. According to the state audit, some routes had previously been paid for more hours than what they should have been.

“The administration is reviewing these changes to determine if there are any discrepancies.

“Any bus driver who believes that there is a discrepancy between those GPS hours provided by the state and their routes should speak to their immediate supervisor to discuss those potential discrepancies.”

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