Unifor raises school bus concerns in new report

TORONTO, Sept. 2, 2014 /CNW/ - As another school year begins, Unifor has today written to the Premier of Ontario and the Minister of Education, alerting them to serious problems with how school bus contracts are awarded across the province, and is releasing a new report on the issue.

"Parents need to trust that when they put their children on a bus in the morning that everything is being done to ensure the best transportation possible," said Unifor National President Jerry Dias, whose letter was sent to Premier Kathleen Wynne and Education Minister Liz Sandals this morning. "Unfortunately, our research has found that the way school bus contracts are handed out undermines that confidence."

Steering Clear: Avoiding the RFP Trap, an in-depth study by Unifor released today, argues that the current Request for Proposal process for handing our school bus contracts in Ontario undermines local democracy and could put children at risk. The report links the province's RFP process to abandoned bus routes, the closure of school bus yards and downward pressure on wages and working conditions for the drivers. School boards have been left to scramble to cover abandoned routes, while declining working conditions has led to higher employee turnover.

"Having bus drivers who are familiar with their routes and the children they are carrying is the best way to ensure children get to and from school safely. That safety, however, is undermined by a procurement policy that breeds instability in this important service," Dias says in his letter.

Unifor is calling on the Ontario government to make good on a promise to conduct a thorough review of the RFP process, which must include an assessment of the impact RFPs have had on wages and working conditions.

Unifor is also calling for more transparency among school transportation consortia that administer the process on behalf on local school boards, including bringing under the jurisdiction of the Freedom of Information Act and the Ontario Ombudsman.

As well, Unifor is calling on the Auditor General to look into what happened to a $10-million provincial Wage Enhancement payout made to school boards in 2008 to boost wages for drivers, but which often never made it to them, and for a provincial board to be set up to monitor the impact of RFPs on wages and working conditions.

To see the letter to the Premier, the Steering Clear report and a summary of the report, please see the attached.

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing more than 305,000 workers, including more than 1,600 school bus drivers in Ontario. It was formed Labour Day weekend 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union merged.

SOURCE Unifor

PDF available at: http://stream1.newswire.ca/media/2014/09/02/20140902_C8141_DOC_EN_42568.pdf

PDF available at: http://stream1.newswire.ca/media/2014/09/02/20140902_C8141_DOC_EN_42569.pdf

PDF available at: http://stream1.newswire.ca/media/2014/09/02/20140902_C8141_DOC_EN_42570.pdf

For further information:

Unifor Communications National Representative Stuart Laidlaw at Stuart.Laidlaw@Unifor.org or (cell) 647-385-4054.