Allendale bus drivers rehired after boycott
A boycott by some Allendale County school bus drivers has led to a few changes.
Rumors circulated on Friday, Oct. 27 that bus drivers were planning to boycott. Interim Superintendent Dr. Walter Tobin said he spoke with the bus driver supervisor on Sunday, Oct. 29 about the status of the boycott, but did not receive a “definitive response” from the drivers. However, eight drivers were unaccounted for on Monday, Oct. 30.
“Upon arrival at Allendale-Fairfax High School at 5:30 a.m. only five bus drivers were on duty. The others had abandoned the workplace,” said Tobin.
This caused a major disruption, but Tobin said the district tried to pick up as many students as possible by having remaining drivers run more routes. There were approximately 130 students reported absent that day, but that number dropped to just a few absences as the boycott extended to a second day on Oct. 31, he said.
“The parents are to be commended for their response in making adjustments to their work schedules to get students to and from school. Student absences were kept to a minimum,” said Tobin, who updated parents several times through the district’s School Messenger on the status of the boycott.
The boycott followed a series of events between bus drivers and district leaders.
Back in the spring, bus drivers threatened to boycott because they wanted a pay increase; however, an agreement was reached. The district agreed to pay the drivers a bonus of $1,000 instead of a cost of living increase. The boycott was avoided. Drivers received $500 in September and are scheduled to receive another $500 in December, Tobin said.
On Tuesday, Oct. 24, seven bus drivers came to the district office without an appointment, said Tobin. They expressed verbal concerns, but did not provide anything in writing.
“An agreement was reached to meet again on October 31, 2017, regarding concerns with all the bus drivers,” said Tobin.
However, just two days later on Thursday, Oct. 26 bus drivers were protesting on the sidewalk in front of the high school. Tobin, a representative from the S.C. Department of Education and other school representatives invited the drivers inside the building to discuss their concerns with the superintendent, but they refused, said Tobin.
The boycott then occurred the next Monday. Tobin said he received a list of eight names of drivers who participated in the boycott.
“Before the strike, we didn’t know what all they wanted,” said Tobin of never receiving a written list of issues directly from the bus drivers. Someone else later provided a list to the district, which cited higher pay, paid holidays, and problems with student discipline as some of their concerns.
Tobin said some of demands were irrational, particularly since the drivers previously agreed to a bonus instead of a pay raise. He said he understands the Allendale County School District has one of the higher pay rates for drivers. Starting pay is $10.74/hour, but can go up to $14.09.
However, the district is making adjustments to address discipline concerns, such as having monitors on some buses.
While the boycott continued on Oct. 31, all bus drivers arrived at the district office for the previously scheduled meeting with Dr. Tobin. All bus drivers who participated in the boycott were dismissed with the option to reapply for their jobs.
Around 4:20 p.m. one bus driver returned to deliver grievance documents for the dismissed drivers. Tobin said the drivers indicated at least one school board member provided assistance with filling out the documents.
On Wednesday, Nov. 1, all dismissed bus drivers signed an agreement that made them eligible to be reemployed as bus drivers. Tobin said all have been rehired under probationary status and all drivers reported for duty on Monday, Nov. 6.
Tobin met once again with the drivers on Tuesday, Nov. 7 and provided a continental breakfast as a peace offering.
An additional 11 bus drivers are being trained, although it takes 20 to 30 days to become fully certified, said Tobin. While some coaches and an assistant principal have recently taken on some bus driving duties, Tobin hopes to relieve them of their added duties soon.
A school board meeting will be held on Monday, Nov. 27 followed by a community meeting with the State Department of Education on Tuesday, Nov. 28. Tobin said he will clarify any questions from the public at that time.