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Arlington school bus drivers hold rain-soaked rally for bonuses, equal treatment

Braving the rain and wind, Arlington Public Schools bus drivers demonstrated along S. Arlington Mill Drive on Friday, calling for better pay and greater respect.

Huddled under umbrellas across from the Arlington County Trades Center (2700 S. Taylor Street) in Shirlington, about 50 drivers held signs saying, “We need our bonus” and “honk 4 drivers” and “equality for all” to cars passing by.

“It was amazing,” said Arlington Education Association President Ingrid Gant. “The bus drivers and attendants wanted to make sure their voices were heard. They felt like they were empowered to let the public know that we love their kids and we love working for Arlington, but they want to be heard and want to be treated like the rest of employees.”

The bus drivers were protesting what they say is unfair treatment when compared to other APS employees, she said. Drivers are waiting on longevity bonuses and had expected the same summer school bonuses other staff received. They are also frustrated with how they’re treated by transportation office staff.

“The longevity bonus, we’re still in the process of trying to figure that out,” she said, adding that drivers began their advocacy when they learned summer school bonuses wouldn’t apply to them.

This summer, facing deep staff shortages and having promised a robust summer school program, APS offered $1,000 bonuses to teachers and $500 bonuses to assistants who signed up. In September, when APS doled out those bonuses, Gant said bus drivers felt left out despite having worked through the summer.

In addition, drivers recently lost a third of their parking spaces at the bus depot, and most have to take a shuttle from the Barcroft Community Center to their bus. Some have been given placards permitting them to park around the lot, but have recently been getting ticketed.

She said a lottery system was established to ensure spots were distributed fairly, but it was conducted while bus drivers were on their routes, leaving other staff to get the coveted spots.

“The bus drivers are feeling like they’re the last people on the totem pole,” said Gant, who has brought these concerns to Superintendent Francisco Durán since August.

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia tells ARLnow that APS is working to address drivers’ concerns, which they have also raised during School Board meetings.

“[We] are working to address the concerns related to compensation and workplace climate that our drivers and attendants have raised in recent meetings. Most recently, staff members were provided a timeline to improve the climate within the office,” he said. “Our bus drivers provide a vital service to students and the community and we are committed to responding to their feedback and ensuring they feel valued and appreciated as members of the Arlington Public Schools team.”

As for the bonuses, he said those were targeted to classroom staff.

“Teaching summer school is voluntary,” he said. “Bonuses were provided to teachers and assistants in an effort to address a significant shortage in teachers for the summer school program. In addition, teachers are on 10-month contracts and summer school is not required of them. Bus drivers are on 11-month contracts which includes summer school.”

But drivers, who are contracted to work six-hour days, say they were expecting and depending on the extra money. During the most recent School Board meeting last night (Thursday), a handful of drivers asked the bonuses be applied to them and requested eight-hour work days, saying that there’s enough after-school activities and routes for everyone to have two extra hours.

“Due to the recent pandemic, the price of just about everything is rising, and the financial hardship we’re experiencing just got harder,” driver Kimberly Goodwin said. “Some of us are a paycheck away from losing housing. We are aware that teachers and teachers’ aids have received bonuses — are bus drivers not worthy of the same bonus?”

Other drivers said the transportation division is rife with abuse of power and favoritism, with some drivers assigned extra routes while others are not. They said paychecks are often shorted and it takes weeks to get reimbursed.

“Enough with the favoritism, enough with the harassment, enough with the disrespect [and] injustice,” driver Crystal Harris said at the School Board meeting. “Our livelihoods matter. We still need your help.”

This morning, drivers brought their advocacy outdoors. Gant says the rain didn’t dampen the positive atmosphere.

“They don’t feel defeated,” she said. “They feel like they did something.”

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