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February 8, 2023

Bus driver ‘sick-out’ disrupts school days

Drivers calling attention to staffing shortage

WATSONVILLE—More than 40 school bus drivers who conducted a “sick-out” on Oct. 21 and 24 are back at work, and Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez has called the action “unlawful,” saying it violated the recent CSEA Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“We deeply regret the disruption and inconvenience that occurred Friday and today due to the absence of approximately 38 bus drivers,” she wrote in a letter to the community.

According to Rodriguez, the drivers did not give any notice before conducting the work stoppage, and the drivers who called in sick did not communicate their reasons with the district.

But bus drivers attending the PVUSD Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday said the multiple vacancies in the Transportation Department means that drivers must work additional shifts, leaving overworked drivers exhausted and burned out.

“Our transportation department is really, really hurting,” said driver Johnny Martinez. “Most of our bus drivers are working doubles. Dispatchers and mechanics are working double, and we haven’t seen anything yet.”

All of the district’s 29 regular routes were canceled on those days, and the 26 special education routes—mandated by law to be carried out—ran late as the district struggled to complete them, said PVUSD spokeswoman Alicia Jimenez.

The sick-out led to a roughly 4% increase in the number of absences those days, Jimenez said. 

Teachers said the move caused chaos during pickup and drop-off times, with hundreds of parents forced to drive to pick up their kids.

Some 6,000 students districtwide rely on the buses, 1,000 of whom are in special education.

On the same day the sick-out occurred, there was a bit of good news. The District and CSEA reached a tentative agreement for a 12.5% salary increase for all CSEA members.

The agreement also includes a one-time $1,800 payment for employees who worked 75% of the 2021-22 school year, and a one-time $500 payment to all current employees.

The District is currently training 11 new drivers, with the cost of the class—normally $2,500—covered, Jimenez said. She pointed out that the district’s benefits package, which allows many to pay just $90 per month for their healthcare plan, helps make up for the wages.

Finding more money for wages and salaries, she added, would be difficult. 

“The only thing we can cut is programs, personnel and things that are important to students,” she said.

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