Bus drivers strike for more money
A Western Quebec bus strike has left parents in the Hills scrambling to get their kids to school, but a union rep says if working conditions don’t improve, there will be nobody left to drive the bus.
Employees with Lasalle and Bigras Transport have been on strike since May 1, which has impacted 10 schools in the area, including: Wakefield Elementary, St. Mike’s in Low, Queen Elizabeth Elementary in Kazabazua and Philemon Wright and Hadley in Gatineau.
Teamsters Local 106 union rep Denis Ouellette told the Low Down that bus drivers only make around $20,000, but work 182 days out of the year and carry the burden of getting kids to and from school safely.
“They’re carrying the most precious things that families have, it’s their children,” said Ouellette. “They have the responsibility, day and night, of the children they are carrying daily. They need to be alert, they need to be present. [Bus drivers] need to have eyes all over their head because they have to be aware of what’s going on inside the bus, but also outside because sometimes drivers around school buses are not very disciplined.”
While Ouellette wouldn’t divulge how much of an increase drivers are looking for, he did say that other bus carriers in the province received between 15-20 per cent increases on their contracts, and he said the five per cent that the the bus companies have offered. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“With the inflation and everything, the salary just doesn’t cut it right now,” he said.
Part of the issue moving forward, according to Ouellette, is that many of the bus drivers currently working are aging, and without an attractive salary, recruiting new bus drivers will be nearly impossible.
“The shortage of school bus drivers that you’re seeing today will only get worse, if we aren’t able to improve those working conditions for the school bus driver,” he said.
“If we want to make the profession of being a school bus driver interesting for new
people, we need to improve their possibility to have a quality of life,” he said. “Or else those drivers need to have sometimes two and three jobs to make ends meet.”
Ouellette said he’s heard from several bus drivers who have insisted that they would
make more money at a fast food restaurant.
Lasalle and Bigras Transport have been without a contract since August of last year. Ouellette said among their demands is a retroactive increase dating back to Sept. 1, 2022.
Western Quebec School Board director-general Mike Dubeau told the Low Down that he is frustrated with the strike, especially since the WQSB signed contracts with the bus companies last year. He said the dispute now rests between the drivers and the companies and the school has no choice but to wait it out.
“We have no influence over the bargaining,” said Dubeau. “The only thing we can do at this point is apply fines to the companies who are not providing the service.”
Dubeau said that the bus strike is currently affecting 2,300 kids from the school board and he said he has concerns about the timing of the strike as it nearing the end of the year, with projects due and exams beginning in June.
“We want our kids in school, especially at this time of year,” he said. “As a school board, we are very disappointed that we’re not getting the service to our families and students.”
Dubeau said he has heard no indication that the strike will end soon.