TORONTO, Sept. 8, 2016 /CNW/ - The shortage of school bus drivers, which forced parents across Ontario to scramble to get their children to school, is the direct result of a deeply flawed procurement program forced on school boards by the province, Canada's largest drivers' union says.
"What we have is a race to the bottom, which has made today's problems sadly predictable," said Deb Montgomery, President of Unifor Local 4268 and a school bus driver for 30 years.
"This chaos breaks my heart. Drivers build relationships with the families we serve, and it is very difficult to see them struggling today."
Unifor has argued that the Request for Proposals system for awarding school bus contracts, being rolled out across the province, leads to constant instability and contract flipping in the system as school bus companies try to outbid each other for the contracts.
Constant contract flipping leaves drivers wondering every fall if they will have a job, and parents unsure of who will pick up their children to get to school from year to year.
Montgomery said the RFP system has turned a reliable system for getting students to and from school, offering decent jobs for drivers and consistency for parents and their children, into an increasingly precarious industry offering few rewards for drivers and little stability for parents.
"School bus companies are bidding so low, they cannot attract drivers or offer stable secure jobs. This has ripple effects throughout the system," said Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi.
Montgomery said she has been receiving reports from across the province of driver shortages and children left without a way to get to school.
Unifor's study of the school bus industry, Steering Clear, Avoiding the RFP Trap, warned that route flipping resulting from RFPs would lead to volatility, uncertainty in the school bus system and more unsafe school buses on the road.
The province has already committed to reviewing the RFP process. Unifor has called for drivers' compensation to be taken out of the bidding process and for the province to institute a fair wage standard as part of its upcoming review of the transportation funding framework, among other fixes. The consortia that administer the RFPs on behalf of school boards act largely in secret and beyond the oversight of local school boards. That must also change.
To see Unifor's Steering Clear report and other research, go to: unifor.org/schoolbuscampaign
Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing more than 310,000 workers, including 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.