OAK FOREST, Ill. — School bus contractor Cook-Illinois Corp. has launched a variety of initiatives aimed at improving the health of its employees.
The family-owned and -operated business with 2,700 school bus drivers and monitors, and more than 300 office and shop personnel, has empowered a "wellness captain" at each of its 19 school bus subsidiaries.
Moreover, to date, the company has invested over $22,000 in programs for its drivers.
For instance, in January, Cook-Illinois launched a discounted membership program with Charter Fitness, enabling employees to pay just $10 per month. The company contributes another $10 per month for the premium membership, allowing participants to work out at any club location, get personalized training and bring a “buddy” to work out with.
In addition, the company has removed junk food and soda from its subsidiaries’ vending machines and replaced them with healthier food choices in drivers’ break rooms. Walking clubs have been established in many locations so that drivers can exercise between morning and afternoon routes — typically downtime for school bus drivers.
Officials said that employees’ medical issues had not only been affecting their lives, but the company as well.
“At any given time, almost 2 percent of our employees are missing work due to some type of medical reason,” explained Steve Miller, human resource manager. “In the past year, almost 60 employees had to resign because of medical issues. We’re talking about diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Many are not just missing work, but cutting their lives short.”
On a positive note, employees who are participating in Cook-Illinois’ wellness programs are seeing results.
John Hayden, 63, a school bus driver for Cook-Illinois’ Grand Prairie Transit-Willow Springs subsidiary, lost 34 pounds over a three-month period last year, winning the subsidiary’s “Biggest Loser” competition and taking home the grand prize of $250.
“Even if no money were involved, I still would have done it,” he said. “It was nice winning money, don’t get me wrong, but it was worth it just losing the weight.”
Prior to his weight loss, Hayden suffered from high blood pressure and other health issues that have now been resolved.
Andy Townsend, another bus driver for the subsidiary, has lost 8 ½ to 9 pounds in the program so far, with an ultimate goal of 30 pounds.
Townsend’s manager, Terry Boxel, sees other benefits to the wellness program, too.
“More people are getting along,” she explained. “People who never used to talk now have the opportunity to get to know one another in a healthy way.”
Currently, 27 Grand Prairie Transit-Willow Springs employees have taken advantage of the gym membership.
Drew Tierney, manager of the American School Bus-Frankfort subsidiary, has noticed that drivers are starting to compete with their company-issued pedometers to see who walks the most each day.
“The employees are taking advantage of this program,” he said. “Before, they used to sit, talk and socialize in between shifts. Now that it is starting to get cold, we provide a car to take the walkers to a mall nearby.”