UniteGPS – Growing concerns over low pay and stressful workloads have prompted dozens of unionized Louisiana school bus drivers to stage sickouts over the past weeks.

On March 3, dozens of bus drivers in Jefferson Parish Schools District called out sick prior to picking up students at the scheduled time, impacting over 64 routes. Another prior sickout incident occurred on Feb. 11 in St. Tammany Parish School District when more than 60 drivers participated. The community deploys around 400 bus drivers and has 55 schools, 14 of which were affected. 

What both of these Louisiana school districts have in common is an uncommon “owner-operator” model in which bus drivers must also provide their own transportation, paying for the maintenance and operational costs in the process. Moreover, neither group asked for prior permission from the union before organizing the sickouts.

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Sure, drivers may receive an “operational pay” of around $8,500 from the state to help cover maintenance costs, yet this amount has stayed the same since 1986. Due to general inflation and higher quality standards over the years, it’s a whole lot more expensive to maintain a vehicle today than it was in the 1980s.

Challenges for Louisiana school bus drivers 

Combined with a low entry-level salary of under $26,000, school bus drivers in Louisiana have been pleading with these school districts to improve financial compensation for years. In a recent article, Fox 8 Live includes perspectives from bus drivers and vehicle owners at Jefferson Parish Schools District describing the issues at play here. 

“I was out for three weeks, costing me $60 every single day that I was out for a rental bus while my bus was being fixed and $3,700 to fix my bus, and then the next year, my high-pressure oil pump went out, that was another $3,500 and more rental fees,” said the owner and operator in the article.

Another bus driver says that despite working for nearly 22 years in the district, his pay never changed. With a career spanning over two decades, he laments how tires that once cost $125 in 1993 now run up to $500. Some even take out predatory loans with high-interest rates to afford repairs, or if their vehicle isn’t operable, rent a bus for $60 a day. 

When bus repairs can exceed over $3,000, not to mention the high daily rental rates and measly financial reimbursement from the state government, some Louisiana school bus drivers find themselves in financial peril.