Wake County Schools

'We are not going to stop': Wake bus drivers continue sick out for third day even after board decides on bonuses

Bus drivers in Wake County are continuing to call out sick to work in protest of low wages and poor working conditions.

Posted Updated

Adam Owens
, WRAL reporter; Emily Walkenhorst, WRAL education reporter
CARY, N.C. — Bus drivers in Wake County are continuing to call out sick to work in protest of low wages and poor working conditions even after the Wake County Board of Education approved a bonus for full-time and part-time employees.

The board approved Tuesday night a $1,250 bonus for all full-time employees, a smaller bonus for part-time employees, a pay increase to $13 per hour for roughly 1,600 employees and a 1% local supplement salary increase for educators.

While momentum in the protest has decreased since Friday, many bus drivers say that the pay increase is not enough and they need to continue putting pressure on the board.

"Compared to a normal day, we had an additional 30 drivers out today," according to Lisa Luten, spokesperson for the district. Around 200 bus drivers called out sick on Friday, she said. 

Drivers said that some students were not showing up to their bus stop, likely because parents worried their bus driver would not show up.

One driver, who spoke to WRAL News anonymously, warned of more demonstrations. 

"The board needs to understand that we are not playing [around]. We are after to get our raise, and we are not going to stop until we get it," that driver said.

But it's unclear how long the demonstrations will last. Another driver told WRAL News the district is cracking down on bus drivers who have called out sick. They said that drivers cannot be out of work sick for more than three days without a doctor's note. 

Many school bus drivers in the district say even with the bonuses, they are not able to make ends meet and still have to rely on government assistance to provide for their families. 

Bus drivers earn $15 per hour starting out. They are full-time employees and would be included among those receiving the $1,250 bonus. Those drivers have been doubling up on routes and working longer hours than they were during a typical school year, when the district had more drivers.

And bus drivers aren't the only district employees feeling undervalued. Teachers and educators also are pushing for the board to do more.

Aubrey DiOrio, first grade teacher at York Elementary Schools, said during Tuesday night’s board meeting that teachers are losing planning periods, instructional assistants are filling for empty classrooms and specials classes are being canceled at elementary schools that don’t have the staff to hold the classes.

People have quit, she said, but “a lot of us are still here waiting to feel valued.”

Teachers are “exhausted,” she said.

“We cannot continue to work uncompensated any longer,” DiOrio said, followed by a standing ovation.

The Wake County chapter of North Carolina Association of Educators has argued for $2,000 in hazard pay, a pay increase for all employees and compensation for extra work, such as filling in for classes when substitutes aren’t available.

School board members favored increasing employees’ pay. They’ve been asking for more pay, particularly for the district’s lowest paid employees, for years.

Board Member Karen Carter, who worked for nine years as an instructional assistant in the district, said she was worried the proposal approved Tuesday didn’t go far enough. She said many non-educators earning low wages above $13 per hour would be left out of all measures but the bonus.

“I am glad to hear this is just the first step,” Carter said.

But a wage increase for other earners is long overdue, years after the board approved a five-year plan to raise wages, she said.

“I am not happy,” Carter said.

Wages have increased by only $0.52 per hour for some positions since the 2008-09 school year, she said.

“To me this is unacceptable,” Carter said.

Roughly 3,500 district employees earn less than $15 per hour, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources A.J. Muttillo said.


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