Q&A: Leaving Students Out in the Cold

Posted on April 1, 2002
Transportation for students at the nation’s second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), was seriously hampered in early April when about 800 unionized drivers went on strike. Represented by Teamsters Union Local 572, the striking drivers work for Laidlaw Education Services and are responsible for 707 of the school district’s 2,220 total bus routes. Chanita Gardner, a Laidlaw school bus driver participating in the strike, described her view of the situation to SBF Plus. SBF Plus: What are your personal feelings about the strike? Gardner: I don’t totally fault Laidlaw for the situation that we are in. I also blame the school district. The company is telling us that the district is not paying them enough to pay us. If that is the problem, then Laidlaw needs to negotiate with LAUSD first. Once they solve that problem, they can come and solve the problem with the Teamsters. But they are negotiating so that is a good sign. We all want to go back to work. SBF Plus: What do you hope to gain from the strike? Gardner: I will be satisfied if the company can improve our benefits and pay rate. We just want to make close to what district drivers make. Working for a contract company, we know we are not going to get $25/hr or $20/hr. We just want to get close. The bottom line is that we are maxing out at $12.90/hr and district drivers are starting at $15/hr. Also, something definitely has to be done with the medical insurance. It has to be at a point where it is affordable. Laidlaw needs to pick up some of the cost. We’re not saying they have to pick up 100 percent of it, but they can make it reasonable. SBF Plus: How are the strikers supporting themselves financially? Gardner: Fortunately, I’m married. But I would say that 80 percent of our drivers are single parents, mostly single mothers. And a lot of them came from the gang program, or else Laidlaw brought them in off of the welfare system. We really need this job. There have been rumors that there is no strike fund to support us, but when we come to work every day, we’re not getting anything anyway. If your paycheck every two weeks is $600 and they are taking $300 out for medical, by the time you pay your daycare you’re not getting much. So to lose the $50 from the strike fund is not that much to lose. I would say there could be a problem with people dropping out, but the stronger force of us is going to be in it until the end. SBF Plus: How do you think this is affecting the kids? Gardner: We have kids out here with us today on the picket line, missing school. Laidlaw drivers don’t have the pleasure of picking kids up in Beverly Hills. We pick kids up in the ghetto. The news cameras need to go to the ghetto and see how many kids are standing around for two or three hours and waiting for a bus. Go see how many are stuck. That’s the part they’re not showing that they need to show.
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