Union leaders say changes must be made to fix school bus driver shortage

As students return to the classroom, many districts are still coping with bus driver shortages across the state. Now, drivers are addressing the issue and how to fix it. 

In Robbinsdale, about 12 routes are not running, and the district is asking families to be patient as they resolve the problem.

"Students aren’t being transported to school like we would like them to be… we’ve struggled ever since to get back up to full staff," Connell said.

Robbinsdale is working on hiring as many as 40 people, but the drivers can’t just get behind the wheel immediately.

"The next scheduled opportunity for bus driver testing with the State of Minnesota wasn’t until November. There’s delays built into this system that we just can’t beat," Connell said.

"We predicted then that these hard-to-fill positions would hit a tipping point soon," said bus driver Tessa Jukabowski.

In an online news conference of union leadership for school bus drivers, those leaders say a years-long push for better pay and better benefits can’t be ignored any longer.

"This is a crisis, and it needs to be addressed by our state leaders and our public school boards," said Gus Froemki with Teamsters Local 320.

They say split shifts are a problem, and drivers need to be treated as full-time workers. Also, drivers don’t qualify to file for unemployment, and the union says legislation needs to change that.

"We should be valued, full-time employees with a livable wage. A livable wage would allow us to draw new employees from all age groups and retain them long-term," Jukabowski said.

Meanwhile, Robbinsdale has already begun offering full-time options.

"We’ve structured this job so much differently now. This job has benefits. We can keep you working all day… we’re going to not only train you, we’re going to pay to train you," Connell said.