NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Bus drivers for Metro Nashville Public Schools rallied Friday morning, demanding better pay and benefits amid a staffing shortage they say has become a “crisis.”
Pam Battle, president of Local 9426 USW, said they wanted to get the word out to the public, adding that many people do not realize how dire the driver shortage is right now.
Battle said they are 200 or more drivers short, and many are doubling and tripling routes, forcing kids to sit three to a seat.
She also cited safety concerns with buses being overcrowding.
“Those buses have a limit. Those buses have a limit… 84 capacity… by law we cannot put any more on there. If we do, if we have a wreck, who’s going to be liable? The bus driver,” Battle said. “So, it is time for this district to sit down with me and let’s figure out a plan here because we’re headed in the wrong direction, and if they don’t wake up and listen to us, I promise a parent, it’s coming. So, they better get ready. They cannot say that ‘no one has told them.’ The board cannot say ‘they have no knowledge of this.’ Dr. Battle cannot say ‘she has no knowledge of this.’”
Battle says it's no wonder they've lost 25 drivers since the beginning of the school year because of burnout. Meanwhile, they believe the district has embraced the notion that drivers can do more with less.
"I'm telling you we've lost 25 drivers since school has started and we're in a process now where you may have to carpool. If this keeps up, I don't know what Metro is going to do," Battle said.
Battle says they've been in contact with a new district official who now oversees transportation. They hope the change results in a resolution that includes bonus pay for drivers taking on extra routes.
MNPS officials say at last count they're short 72 drivers. They say they're working on a pay review for drivers, not unlike the review that landed teachers their big pay bump.
MNPS sent us this statement:
"The shortage of bus drivers here at MNPS and at districts around the state and country continues to present a challenge in meeting the transportation needs of our students. District leadership continue to explore strategies for retaining and recruiting drivers to the team. While we continue to seek out qualified applicants for our open driver positions, our transportation team is deploying all available strategies such as running A/B routes, combining routes, or having CDL trained staff in supervisory or other positions go out to serve the needs of students."
Union VP Eric Warfield said that between the stress that comes from working extra shifts and the lives they're responsible for, its time they're paid what they deserve.
"When this city pays the person who picks up trash more than the person that picks up your child, there's a problem. There's a very big problem when your trash is worth more than your child riding this bus," Warfield said.
Battle urged the public to support bus drivers by calling the school board and director of schools to demand better pay and benefits for them.
“When we have 84 students behind us and we have a fight on this bus, what do you think? What’s going to happen? We’re going to have a wreck out there. Do we want to wait until something major happens,” she asked.