In the course of progressing from informal counseling sessions to more serious hearings, the driver has a right to have a union representative present. “Even with informal meetings, anything that may result in discipline, you involve the union right from the get-go,” says Myers. At North Colonie Schools, first and second meetings for the same offense don’t require union involvement, but when a situation requires a third meeting, Myers says he tells the driver that they have the right to have the person of their choice present. “If they say, well I don’t need anybody, I say, well get somebody anyway.”
That way, with both meticulous documentation of the problem and union involvement, a supervisor’s accusation of wrongdoing has legitimacy. “You document everything and follow through, making sure everyone knows where this is at and where it could go,” Myers says. “You need to show that you’ve done your homework and everything is justified.”
Myers notes that the drivers union can get a negative reputation for protecting members at any cost. However, he says, “they’re in it for the same reasons you are, for bus safety and they want drivers to be well thought of.” “They have a job to do, and I respect it,” says Mazie. “They’re there to defend the employee. Some people might say it’s a necessary evil, but I think that they play a very important role.”
Sometimes, despite an administrator’s best efforts to work with a driver, the situation cannot be resolved and employment must be terminated. As an example, Thompson tells of a driver who was employed in her department for two years but was continuously absent for health reasons. “She used all her sick time and more,” Thompson recalls. “At one time I had to suspend her for three days because she was gone, then ended up not renewing her contract for the upcoming school year.”
Myers encountered a similar situation with a special-needs bus aide in his department. “She had a problem with absenteeism, but she also had an abusive husband and we really tried to work with her,” he says, noting that it was important to him to take her extenuating circumstances into consideration when dealing with her job performance problems. “Try as we might, we couldn’t ‘fix’ her.”
Transportation directors, for the most part, report that terminations are infrequent in their departments. “You’re never looking to get rid of somebody unless they really are a negative part of your workplace,” says Myers. “Generally you can catch that during training, long before you ever put them behind the wheel. You try to hire people the right way to begin with, people that really want to be bus drivers and have an affinity for it.”
Accidents and re-training
When drivers are involved in preventable accidents, most departments send the driver to go through re-training that targets the specific behavior that led to the accident.
At Miami-Dade, an accident review committee meets every month to study the details of every accident and decide whether they were preventable or not, and make recommendations as to actions the supervisor should take with regard to the employee. “Based on that, we would send them back for re-training,” Mazie says. “Afterward, the employee has the ability to request a meeting with the committee to defend themselves if they think the decision was not justified.”
The committee might also be able to identify health issues that could have affected the accident, especially with a driver who is involved in repeated accidents, whether preventable or not. “Sometimes we’ve sent employees for vision tests and physicals, because we suspected there might be a physical problem we’re not aware of,” says Mazie.