Less than two months after the Tacoma Education Association and the Tacoma Public School District came to an agreement to end the teacher strike, a group of bus drivers have begun taking sick days all at once. 24 out of the 56 bus drivers tasked with transporting students with special needs all made the decision to take a sick day on Monday, leaving hundreds of students without a means to get to school. The number rose by two on Tuesday when a total of 26 bus drivers took sick days. Though the number dropped to 22 on Wednesday, many parents have expressed their feelings of discontent to KIRO 7 News.
With all of the students affected by the sick leave having special needs, President of the Special Needs Parent Teacher Association Sue Leusner weighed in on the subject. Leusner told KIRO 7 News how many parents were worried that the sick-out was precursor to another strike for the Tacoma School District. She also explained how vital the bus is as a mode of transportation for families of lower socioeconomic status.
Tacoma School District Spokesperson Dan Voelpel told KIRO 7 News that there still isn’t a clear understanding as to why the sick-out has occurred. Voelpel said that the bus drivers were given a pay raise 1.9 percent higher than what was originally agreed upon with the new contract for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 286.
“So we went above and beyond what the contract said and we felt like that was a show of good faith to the bus drivers that we value their contributions,” Voelpel said.
IUOE has specified that this is not a union-sponsored decision and that the decision to utilize sick days was made by every individual bus driver. Voelpel said that the bus drivers that took part in the sick-out have utilized all of their available sick days, and any future sick days taken require a doctor’s note for approval.
Many bus drivers that have taken part in the sick-out met with the school board in September to vie for more bus drivers. Complaints of injuries and health problems going unresolved have left a resounding opinion of neglect in the eyes of the bus drivers that have begun the sick-out. With there being a nationwide shortage of bus drivers, Voelpel said that there’s little the school district can do beyond the active recruiting already in motion.
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