Caroneta Williams said she drives the world’s most precious cargo to and from school every day but gets paid less than if she transported trash to the landfill.
Because of that, she said it’s time for change.
“I love my job, I love my kids,” she said. “The kids are why I come to work ... but I don’t need to be working in these conditions. You go to work and you do your best and you get treated so bad.”
About a dozen Richmond County school bus drivers protested outside the board of education Tuesday evening to bring attention to what they call unfair wages and mistreatment.
Drivers said their pay was deducted by $1 an hour seven years ago as a cost saving measure and was never reinstated. They are also protesting the transportation department’s method of calculating base pay, which can cause a driver’s income to fluctuate year to year.
Base pay is calculated by multiplying a drivers’ daily hours by their hourly rate and 176 working days and dividing that by 12 months. Even if they work 10 months a year, they are still paid once a month for 12 months to account for insurance purposes, according to transportation director Jimmie Wiley.
Daily hours are predetermined through GPS tracking on every bus that measures how long it should take to complete a route. Because drivers still clock in and out every day, their paychecks are adjusted if they work more or less hours on a given day.
But the drivers said the base pay formula lowers their paychecks during the holidays and summer breaks when they aren’t driving but are receiving a paycheck calculated by what they say are unfair base hours.
“When it gets to a point where you can’t pay your bills, things have to change,” said local Transportation Workers Union President Sallie Thomas. “We want them to treat their people right.”
Wiley said he stands by the base pay method, and is confused by the drivers’ protest since the process has been in place for years. He said it was able to be calculated more accurately the past three years with the GPS tracking on the buses, which allows the department to see if buses are stalling or killing time on the clock after children are dropped off at school.
“Technology is causing us to be more efficient,” Wiley said. “It’s helping everybody be more honest. In essence you can’t pay for them for something they’re not doing.”
He said with the hand scanners used by drivers to clock in and out, they are still paid if they are given extra duties or if their routes are delayed because of traffic or otherwise.
But driver Greg Johnson said it’s also about more than just money. He said drivers feel disrespected and unappreciated, which is why the department has a consistent shortage of drivers and high turnover.
“People always say put the children first,” he said. “We do that. We’re the baby-sitters, we’re the moms, we’re the dads. So I want to see things get better for us. I want to see a brand new change. We have lost some damn good drivers because of this.”
Thomas said the local union, which represents about a quarter of the department’s drivers, is working to determine the next steps to provoke change. She said a strike is unlikely because drivers would not be protected from termination under Georgia’s union laws.
However she said the local union’s attorney is pursuing legal action to demand fair work conditions and pay for its drivers. Williams said it is the only option because local officials have not stepped up.
“I can’t even afford to put tires on my car,” Williams said. “You think the board members care? They don’t.”