Board's decision shows turmoil of school bus system


OTTAWA, March 19, 2015 /CNW/ - The loss of 140 school bus jobs in Ottawa today is an illustration of the unneeded turmoil caused by the Ontario government's Request for Proposals process for handing out contracts, and points to the need for reforms to the system, the province's primary school bus union says.

"Parents and drivers deserve better than to be left wondering from year to year who will shuttle children to and from school each day," said Unifor National Representative Mike Armstrong. "And our children deserve better than a race to the bottom to determine who they will start and finish their school day with."

First Student today told 140 members of Unifor local 4266, drivers and other employees, that it had lost its contract for 350 school bus routes with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board through the board's Request for Proposals (RFP) process, a secretive system the province requires school boards to use for school bus contracts. The loss of routes will also impact approximately 150 non-union workers employed by First Student in Ottawa's west end.

"Unifor will do all it can to ensure drivers are re-hired by the new operators when they take over the routes next year, but there's no job guarantee and there's no guarantee that drivers will maintain their wages and work standards, already among the lowest in the province," said Armstrong.

Unifor has been a leader in raising concerns about the RFP process. Its report, Steering Clear, Avoiding the RFP Trap, was released at the start of the school year. And last month, Unifor spoke before a three-person panel looking into the RFP process.

Unifor called on the panel to recommend taking drivers' compensation out of the bidding process and for the establishment of an independent office to monitor school bus contracts and ensure fair wages for drivers.

Any review of the RFP process must include an assessment of the impact RFPs have had on wages and working conditions. Unifor is also calling for more transparency among the school transportation consortia that administer the process on behalf on local school boards, including bringing them under the jurisdiction of the Freedom of Information Act and the Ontario Ombudsman. 

"Competing for low-cost school bus contracts has led to low morale and high turnover in an industry that prides itself on safety and reliability," said Local 4266 president Andre Desjardins. "Drivers play a key role in students' total educational experience."

To see Unifor's Steering Clear report, go to:

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing more than 305,000 workers, including more than 1,600 school bus drivers. It was formed Labour Day weekend 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union merged.