A leader of the Transport Workers Union says his organization has an appeal pending which he hopes will reinstate bus drivers laid off by the township school district. Meanwhile, school officials say routes have been set for the 2015-16 school year.
“The board did these layoffs knowing an appeal was pending,” said John Menshon, president of Transport Workers Union Local 225 Branch 4, which represents the district’s school bus drivers. “The layoffs have to be done in good faith, and we can demonstrate that they weren’t.”
Two bus drivers were laid off before the school year began and 14 more had their hours reduced from full time to part-time status, said Interim Superintendent Dr. Richard Caldes. One of the drivers is retiring in October, which effective brings the number down to 13, he added.
The 14 drivers who had their hours reduced lost their health care coverage in the process, creating a hardship for their families, Menshon said.
“It’s not just the layoffs themselves, it’s the impact of how many people are not going to have benefits for their families,” Menshon said. “That’s the bigger impact here. I just don’t want anyone to miss the fact that these layoffs cause a lot of grief and hardship for these folks.”
The TWU’s appeal of the district’s layoff plan primarily focuses on the “good faith” aspect. In the filing with the state Civil Service Commission, the union claims the district did not explore alternatives to the layoffs or hold discussions on how they could be avoided as state policy requires, Menshon said. Another sticking point is how the district handled sending some bus routes out to bid by way of the Monmouth-Ocean Educational Services Commission. In the past, Caldes has said that state law requires the district to allow the commission to send certain out-of-district routes out to bid to see if they can be handled at a cheaper rate than in-house employees could provide.
Some routes were awarded to contractors through the commission while others were kept in-house, Caldes said. The contracts for those routes were awarded in July, which ultimately determined how many drivers were to be laid off or converted to part-time status.
“It came down to numbers,” said Caldes.
Menshon predicted “chaos” may ensue Thursday as the school year begins, though Caldes said routes have not been eliminated even though the hours certain drivers work have been reduced.
“I’m hoping that it’s going to go well,” Caldes said, adding that the routes will be fine-tuned as the school year begins, as is done every year.
A successful appeal of the layoff plan would mean drivers who had been laid off could return to work and those who had their hours reduced would revert back to full-time status with benefits.