WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a proposed rule that would enact mandatory training requirements for entry-level commercial motor vehicle operators who must have a CDL, including school bus drivers.
Under the new rule, drivers with two or fewer years of experience operating commercial motor vehicles would have to go through training in four specific categories. These four key training areas include:
The FMCSA estimates that the training under the proposed rule should take 4.5 hours for school bus drivers. Training must be offered to all prospective drivers, and it would serve as a minimum standard that drivers must meet before they would be able to operate a truck or bus on public roads.
Existing rules only address testing and licensing. Currently, new and prospective drivers must prepare for CDL testing by studying such topics as vehicle inspection procedures, off-road vehicle maneuvering and operation of a commercial vehicle in traffic. The proposed rule expands the essential information that commercial drivers must be trained in, but does not add the new information to the CDL testing program.
Notably, the proposal gives employers 90 days from the passing of the rule to ensure that all currently employed entry-level drivers receive the mandatory training. Evidence of training completion must be maintained in a qualification file. Some entry-level drivers can be "grandfathered," or exempted, from the training if they have a good driving record and one to two years' experience.
The proposed action responds to a study mandated by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 that found the training of entry-level commercial motor vehicle drivers insufficient.
According to Rick Hudson, human resources director, 300 to 350 of the Fort Valley layoffs will be at the company’s bus and chassis production facility, and 100 will occur at the motor home production plant.
Blue Bird plans to reduce its LaFayette workforce of 600 to 700 to about 300 to 400 between fall 2003 and spring 2004. The LaFayette plant, in northwest Georgia, makes school buses.
Hudson said the layoffs have already started and, ultimately, will include semi-skilled, skilled and white-collar workers.
Hudson said employment at the Fort Valley Blue Bird plants should return to its current level of 1,500 to 1,600 by April next year as a new production line begins operating at full capacity. It is unclear how many employees who are idled will be rehired.
Blue Bird included the layoff announcement in a company statement that outlined a $12 million investment in new assembly lines at its Fort Valley and LaFayette facilities.
"In 2002, we introduced too much model complexity and volume into the LaFayette facility, causing productivity and delivery issues," said Blue Bird CEO Jeff Bust in the company release. "Not only are we addressing these aggressively, we are moving Blue Bird's school bus manufacturing process to the next level." Two hundred company employees were also laid off in 2001 and another 90 in late 2002.
At press time, Hudson indicated that the company changes would not affect any executive level employees. "This reduction did not reflect any upper management positions," he said.