School bus workers seek more pay, less danger Drivers, aides form group to lobby employers, city for safer routes, training

November 15, 1995|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

School bus drivers and aides met at a rain-soaked rail crossing in West Baltimore yesterday to draw attention to the hazards of their jobs and to call on their employers and city agencies to improve their wages and work conditions.

Citing their responsibility for the safety of thousands of city children each day, the drivers announced plans to survey their ranks to identify 25 Baltimore roadway "danger zones and deathtraps."

They plan to lobby city officials -- and the private bus companies that hired them -- to step up traffic law enforcement, improve safety at crossings and stops, and change the routes they consider most treacherous.

"Do we have to wait for a child to be killed? Baltimore has many locations that put children at risk," said driver Raheem Tuggle, spokesman for a newly formed association for school bus drivers and aides supported by the Solidarity Sponsoring Committee.

He and other drivers said they fear an accident such as the one that killed seven teen-agers last month in Fox River Grove, Ill., north of Chicago. A commuter train slammed into the rear of a school bus, which was stopped at a traffic light just past a train crossing.

Last year, the committee and Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a church-based civic group, persuaded the City Council to approve legislation raising the minimum wage for service workers hired by city contractors. The minimum wage for drivers and attendants -- and other city contract workers -- rose from $4.25 to $6.10.

The drivers and aides are lobbying for the Board of Estimates to approve the next raise to $6.60, to stay on track to meet the goal of $7.70 an hour wages in four years.

They also seek increased training for bus attendants, who help disabled and emotionally disturbed students board the buses and monitor them during the daily ride, but have little background for dealing with the students' health and behavior problems.

They cannot intervene if a child has a seizure, for example. Many want to improve their skills and job status, said organizer Kerry Miciotti.

Baltimore City Public Schools has a negotiated agreement with 26 private firms to transport about 3,700 special education students and about 4,000 others to and from schools. The five-year agreement this year is worth about $14.5 million.

"Anything they would want to do in terms of improving safety, we would welcome, and we would want to sit down with their leadership to discuss their concerns once they have a list," said Michael Hardesty, the school system's transportation director.

Wage issues, which vary from company to company, are matters for drivers to negotiate with their employers, he added. The schools' agreement pays the companies a flat rate per driver and per aide.

In the past three years, one death has resulted from 64 train-vehicle accidents in Maryland, said Maj. Raymond Cotton of the Maryland State Police, according to the Associated Press.

Last year, three deaths resulted from school bus accidents in Maryland. None of the 1,100 accidents involved trains, according to state police records. There were 7,400 school buses registered in the state last year.

In September 1959, seven students were killed and 11 were injured when a train crashed into a stalled school bus in Mountain Lake Park, Garrett County.

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