School bus drivers in Arlington County, Virginia, have become the latest in the region to go on strike to protest what they say are insufficient wages.
In a statement obtained by WTOP’s news partners at NBC Washington, a group of drivers who are employed by the school system’s transportation department said they have tried raising their issues at school board meetings and through media interviews, but do not feel their concerns have been given a sufficient response from the county school system.
“Our demands have yet to be met, and this is one of our many attempts for our voices to be heard while fighting for what is deserved,” the group said in the statement.
The strike began Friday morning at 10 a.m., when bus drivers marched from Ballston Mall to the Clarendon Metro Station and back. They said their hope was to raise community awareness and support for their cause.
The group said it has three demands it wants met: Bonuses that they say the superintendent promised, but have not been paid to anyone in the transportation department, along with retention bonuses, a $5 hourly raise to make pay more competitive with surrounding counties, along with an additional hour within their contracted time.
On that last point, the drivers said they are paid for 6-hour days while spending up to 12 hours on school premises.
“We will continue to fight for what is not only deserved but owed to us,” the statement said.
The Arlington County Public School system issued a statement in response to the drivers’ demands, saying: “There is a lot of misinformation about our efforts to support bus drivers, specifically related to the topic of summer school bonuses and compensation.”
They said the county school board approved a $1,000 bonus for full-time employees and a prorated amount for part-time and hourly staff on Nov. 16, and that those bonuses will be delivered on Dec. 6 to all employees hired on or before Nov. 1, 2021. They specified that drivers qualify for this bonus. A separate summer school bonus did not apply to drivers, according to the school system, as the bonus was part of an effort to recruit more teachers and did not apply to other school staff.
The school system argued that its compensation rate is competitive with neighboring counties, releasing figures that they say show drivers for the county make between $21.59 and $35.60. They said drivers will receive a 2% cost of living adjustment in Fiscal Year 2022.
As for the call for an additional hour during the workday, the school system said it will be reviewing the hours and pay rates for all drivers as it begins the budget process for the next fiscal year.
“We cannot make changes apart from that process as it impacts other pay scales within transportation and the decisions are made in the budget cycle,” the school system said in their statement.
School bus drivers in Anne Arundel, Charles and Calvert counties in Maryland have also gone on strike this year for better pay.