Quebec school bus drivers, companies say if contract doesn’t improve, no rides in September

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The main union representing Quebec school bus drivers and their employers says that if the government’s offer does not improve, students in the province will have to find another way to get to school in the fall. .

The Federation of Public Service Employees (FEESP-CSN) rejected the government’s latest offer as tensions persist between the two bodies.

FEESP-CSN President Josée Dubé said the increase in funding proposed by the Ministry of Education is “clearly insufficient”.

“This is a serious time. We hope the government is fully aware of this,” Dube said. “Today we want to show our support for carriers in their fight for adequate funding. Crumbs for school transport are enough!”

A union press release says the government is offering an indexed raise of around 8%, while school bus companies are asking for between 20 and 35%.

The companies pointed out that the price of diesel has doubled over the school year, while parts have risen by 40% and hiring experienced drivers has become increasingly difficult.

Nancy Trudeau is co-owner of Autobus Idéal which operates 150 school buses in Montreal and Laval.

“We need a drastic amount from the government because right now everything is going up,” she said.

She said that combined, the expenses would increase by about $1 million a year.

“It’s a huge expense to add to our expenses,” Trudeau said.

The bus drivers’ union estimates that there is a shortage of 1,500 drivers, and bus lines have been cut due to the lack of drivers.

The Samares Service Center in Lanaudière, for example, has canceled between 2,000 and 3,000 trips since September.

“Very often, it is the bosses of the companies, who themselves will make the school trips for lack of employees,” said Trudeau. “Our drivers work very, very hard for what they do. We need to give them more money.

The Department of Education made an offer of $70 million on Friday, and it’s now up to the drivers’ union and the companies to decide whether that will be enough.

“IT CAN’T GO ON LIKE THIS”

Trudeau said many bus drivers will leave for another job where they will be better paid because they don’t earn a living wage and work irregular hours before and after school.

“Drivers are less and less available so trips will be canceled and it will be difficult for children to get to school,” said CSN President Caroline Senneville.

Many drivers are older and working about five hours a day for such low pay is unsustainable.

“The pay is so low that you have to have another job or other income just to make ends meet,” Senneville said.

A convoy of school buses converged on Quebec City on May 14 to demand better funding for school transportation.

“Clearly what’s on the table isn’t good enough,” Dube said. “I would like to remind you that we, the school bus drivers, are demanding a 10% increase in the total envelope for school transport for wages alone. This amount of approximately $70 million would provide the salary increases necessary for the survival of the profession. We make an average of $20,000 a year. It can’t go on like this.

SHORTAGE OF 1,500 DRIVERS

The majority of school bus companies are due to renew their contracts by the end of August, and the union is threatening that unless a better proposal is put forward, the buses will not be on the road in September.

“The school transportation crisis could worsen even more if the ministry does not readjust its position in the coming weeks,” said FEESP-CSN vice-president, Stéphanie Gratton.

The FEESP-CSN school transportation sector estimates that there is currently a shortage of 1,500 drivers to ensure coverage of all regions of Quebec.

“If school transportation does not resume in the fall, hundreds of bus and sedan drivers will leave the profession. It will be catastrophic. And, in the end, tens of thousands of children and their families will suffer the consequences,” said Mr. Gratton.

Trudeau said the government used to provide extra funding for fuel, but since Quebec announced that all new buses must be electric, the subsidy disappeared. She said while bus companies would love to go green, the $150,000 grant is insufficient.

“Even with this amount, our buses cost double what they used to cost,” Trudeau said. “Instead of costing $100,000, it now costs $200,000, and it’s now mandatory… It’s a great project, we believe in it, but to carry it out, we need the help of the government.”

In addition to buying new buses, companies will have to reorganize their garages and infrastructure to accommodate the electric buses, which entails additional costs.

In addition, the subsidy decreases each year even though the cost of electric buses increases due to the increase in the cost of metal and parts.

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