School bus contractorsto increase aides' pay Operators threatened with loss of city contracts

December 19, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Baltimore City school bus contractors buckled under pressure from city leaders yesterday and agreed to stop paying their employees 50 cents an hour less than city contracts mandate.

But the two dozen or so contractors are balking at giving several months' back pay and paying fines, saying they simply don't have the cash.

"This is going to be a great financial hardship," said Maxine Hopkins, owner of M. R. Hopkins bus company.

Since July, the bus contractors have been paying hundreds of school bus aides $6.10 an hour, even though the city, which hired the contractors to transport students, stipulated that they had to pay $6.60 an hour. The contractors said they were unaware of that.

Yesterday, owners of the businesses that have the bus contracts asked the Board of Estimates to waive the fines and penalties that may be assessed. They also want to give their employees back pay from Sept. 1, instead of July 1.

Board President Lawrence A. Bell III sent the requests to the city Wage Commission to review and return with a recommendation. Consequently, school bus aides should not expect to see their back pay until after the board's next meeting Jan. 8.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, a member of the Board of Estimates, hinted that some leeway may be given to the bus contractors on the issue of back pay.

"I think it is going to be a question of how much," Schmoke said.

The business owners say they will push the city to pay them more money to transport students. Currently, the five-year contracts are worth a total of about $14.4 million.

"The city must give us more money. We can't operate without more money," said Major Evans, an owner of the Citywide Bus Co., which employs 65 bus aides.

Denny Bayer, owner of Hofmann Bus Co., said that he already is operating in the red and that paying his 50 bus aides more money and back pay would cripple his operation.

For months, school bus aides tried to convince their employers to pay the $6.60 an hour, the latest "living wage" increase.

When the Solidarity Sponsoring Committee, a church-based community organization, took up the cause this fall, city leaders began to act.

Last week, Schmoke threatened to yank the contracts unless the employers paid up.

In 1994, the city passed a law requiring contractors doing business with the city to pay workers more than the minimum wage. Last week, the board approved another 50-cent increase -- to $7.10 -- to take effect in July.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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