UNION COUNTY, N.C. — The Union County Public Schools district told parents to plan ahead for Friday when there could be a delay in bus services.
Union County school bus drivers are upset over pay and threatened not to go to work Friday, and it could affect how your child gets to and from school.
Union County school bus drivers said they're not getting paid enough, and they want safer buses.
A small group of drivers gathered Friday morning for what they called a peaceful protest. They didn't have signs, but they did have a message that they want change.
"They’re bringing in other staff from the inside paying $20 an hour. We drivers who been here 17 plus years are making nowhere near that. That’s why we’re out here this morning protesting,” driver Veronica Cameron said.
The district is already experiencing a bus driver shortage. The drivers said the district has 25-bus driver vacancies.
“Once my husband and I leave for work, they're stuck, so that would be a big issue for us,” said parent Valinda Gardner.
Union County parents got a phone message Thursday preparing them for bus route delays Friday morning: “Good evening parents, this is a message from the Union County Public Schools communications office. We are calling to let you know that students may experience delays at bus stops and longer bus rides on Friday, Sept. 20. There is a possibility that there will be an increase in bus driver absences tomorrow, and we want families to be prepared.
“UCPS, like other districts, is experiencing a bus driver shortage. Staff is working each day to recruit additional drivers to eliminate vacancies.
“Please continue to monitor the Here comes the Bus app and school announcements for updates.”
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Several bus drivers spoke to Channel 9, and they said they can’t go on camera because their jobs were threatened. They said they are upset that the district is paying staff members more money to fill the bus driver shortage.
Drivers say the staff members are making $20 an hour compared to the $13.87 bus drivers make.
The district told Channel 9 it's simply compensating those staff members' overtime pay, since they are already working a full day in addition to driving buses. It is just like if a driver were to work overtime, school officials said.
Drivers said they're also concerned about the conditions of the buses. Some buses don’t have air conditioning.
“I pray every day that I don’t pass out driving,” she said. “It’s like being suffocated by hot air, I’m sure these children feel the same way.”
The district told Channel 9 that about 25 percent of the fleet doesn't have air conditioning, which is an issue Channel 9 has been investigating across the area.
Parents we spoke to say said they hope the driver dispute doesn't disrupt getting kids to school.
“I’m hoping this isn't going to be a long, drawn-out situation,” said Gardner.
The district told Channel 9 it raised driver pay two years ago and is working to fill the open bus driver positions.
District officials told Channel 9 Friday morning’s protest had a small impact on bus arrival times. They're still trying to determine what the impact Friday afternoon.
The district said it was able to fill all the routes Friday morning and no children missed school.
The drivers met with district leaders after Friday morning's protest. They said they asked for more money and repairs to things like broken air conditioning on buses. Leaders said they are considering the bus driver demands, and they plan to meet with the drivers again in the near future.
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