Legislation Improves Environmental and Labor Protections for Industry
Legislation protecting workers in the school bus industry pushed by Teamsters Local 251 and other unions (H6118A and S635A), passed the Rhode Island General Assembly overwhelmingly and was signed into law last Friday. Local 251 Secretary-Treasurer Matt Taibi, who has been at the forefront of crafting legislation to improve workers’ lives in Rhode Island, was among the first to testify at a Senate hearing on S635A.
“We are proud to have played a role in getting this bill passed into law,” said Taibi. “We are thankful for State Representative Gregg Amore and State Senator Val Lawson being the prime sponsors of this legislation, for the State House and State Senate leadership supporting this legislation, for the Governor signing the bill and for the hard work of Teamsters Legislative Director Paul MacDonald moving workers’ issues through the legislative process.”
The pro-worker and pro-environmental provisions of the law will be considered model language for workers in the school bus industry across the country. The bill became law upon Governor McKee’s signature later this month.
“This law has so many great provisions for workers in the school bus industry,” said Taibi. “Top among them is prevailing wages for drivers, monitors and aides. This is frequently seen in construction, but has been lacking among student transportation companies. This means that school bus contractors that have traditionally hired inexperienced, low-paid workers can’t undercut responsible contractors that have seasoned, well-trained workers with low-ball bids. The safety of our school children hangs in the balance when contracts are awarded based solely on the lowest cost.”
Some other major highlights of the legislation include a mandatory minimum of 180 paid days to match the school calendar, guaranteed due process for workers when schools or customers want to remove a school bus worker and preferences for contractors using electric school buses.
“Due process to protect workers against false accusations is another important part of this law,” said Paul MacDonald, Local 251 Legislative Director. “We have had too many school bus workers disciplined over unsubstantiated claims of wrongdoing. Recently one worker was accused of, and terminated for, carrying a knife. It turned out to be a nail file. All too often, there has been a difficult process for ensuring that the discipline fits the offense, if any. We believe in progressive and corrective discipline – not unjustified punishment – so that workers do the best possible job for our kids and our communities.”
“We pushed so hard for workers to be paid for the 180 mandated school days because if taxpayers are paying for 180 days of transportation, revenue contracts should reflect this and the workers should be paid for them as well,” said Brooke Reeves, Local 251 Assistant Business Agent. “School bus workers are already in high demand. They work split shifts and have planned layoffs throughout the year, with compensation that is average at best. Having additional layoff days with reduced earnings just pushes workers out of the industry, which hurts our kids and our communities.”
“We look forward to continuing to improve the lives of school bus workers through the good contracts we negotiate and passing legislation like this,” said Taibi.
Teamsters Local 251 represents over 6,300 workers in a wide variety of industries throughout Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts, including approximately 1,000 school bus workers in Rhode Island.