Vermont-NEA News

South Burlington Bus Drivers and Monitors Vote to Join SBEA

Amid ‘Toughest, Hardest’ Working Conditions in Years, South Burlington Bus Drivers, Monitors Vote to Unionize

The city’s 24 transportation workers to become part of the South Burlington Educators’ Association

SOUTH BURLINGTON – The city’s two dozen school bus drivers and monitors Monday morning overwhelmingly voted to join the South Burlington Educators’ Association, marking a trend in which workers across Vermont and the nation are seeking to boost their collective power.

“We are working harder than ever while trying to ensure that our students get where they need to go when they need to get there, and to do it all safely” said James Kirkpatrick, a bus driver who organized the unionization effort. He said that low wages, a grueling schedule, and difficulty recruiting and retaining transportation workers are the main issues that led to Monday’s vote. “We’re losing drivers and bus monitors,” he said. The pay – among the lowest in Chittenden County – and the need to work multiple shifts and routes are also taking a toll. “We are looking forward to addressing these issues at the bargaining table as members of the union.”

Of the unit’s 24 eligible drivers and monitors, 23 cast votes today – all but one in favor of joining the union. After a 10-day waiting period, the bus drivers will become members of the SBEA.

Conditions for bus drivers and monitors here and across the nation have deteriorated badly during the pandemic, with many drivers able to find higher-paying and less stressful jobs. Districts like South Burlington have seen chronic shortages of transportation workers. The shortage in some districts has led to cancellation of in-person instruction because they can’t hire enough bus drivers and monitors.

Monday’s vote comes three months after nearly all of the district’s bus drivers and monitors indicated they were interested in joining the union. The drivers and monitors asked the South Burlington School Board to voluntarily recognize their request to unionize. Instead, the board refused, leading to this morning’s vote.

Even before the vote it was clear that the unionization effort was having an effect. According to an email from the district’s Burlington-based outside lawyer, the board said it was intending to boost the pay of all drivers and monitors by $3 an hour beginning with the next pay period.

“We are proud to be a key part of our students’ day, as we know how important our role in making our schools operate really is,” Kirkpatrick said. “Being part of the union gives us the power to advocate for the transportation services our schools, our city, and our students rely upon and deserve.”

As members of the SBEA, the city’s bus drivers and monitors also become members of Vermont-NEA and of the National Education Association. With 13,000 members, Vermont-NEA is the largest union in the state; the NEA’s 3 million members makes it the largest union in the country.

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