“We want to drive your kids!”
PONTIAC – Frustrated bus drivers have been picketing in front of area schools, including Poupore Primary school in Fort-Coulonge on May 10, to draw attention to their cause and gather community support. The drivers have been on strike since May 1, an action that affects 16,000 children as their parents are left to coordinate getting them to and from school.
“We aren’t unrealistic in our demands,” explained striking bus driver Deborah-Lynn Beauchamp. “We don’t expect to make as much as someone working full-time, but our hours make it really hard to find work elsewhere, so the majority of us are only scraping by because we have no additional income sources,” she said. “None of us get benefits. Transport Scolaire Sogesco Inc., which owns Autobus LaSalle Ltd., made $7 million in profit last year, but most drivers make less than $460 per week. It’s shameful.”
“We’ve tried to initiate talks, but our attempts to communicate with the company haven’t been acknowledged,” said Tara Lee Betts, Teamsters Union Local 106 representative. “We voted, and we were 97% in favour of striking. We ask parents to reach out and ask Sogesco why they haven’t responded to our request for a new contract so we can get back to work,” she added.
Drivers receive ROE from Sogesco
On May 9, the unionized bus drivers were shocked and concerned when they received a Record of Employment (ROE) from the company, which many thought was a lay-off notice. A CHIP 101.9 FM report clarified the issue by contacting Mylène Forget, a public relations specialist for the company. In a radio interview Forget stated: “Employers are required to issue a ROE to employees receiving insurable earnings, and who cease to work…even if the employee does not intend to claim EI benefits.” She explained that if there are 7 consecutive calendar days with no work or insurable earnings an interruption of earnings occurs, which is called the 7-day rule. The reason for issuing the ROE was Code B – strike or lockout.
Parents support the drivers
“I’m extremely inconvenienced by this,” confirmed one angry parent who spoke with the bus drivers. “I live at the very end of the bus line – my child is literally the furthest bussed child in the region – and it took me an hour and a half to get to school this morning to drop her off,” she added.
“Driving an unwieldy vehicle is stressful,” Beauchamp confirmed. “It takes a special type of person to drive a bus filled with 50 children ranging in age from 4 to 17 through snow and ice, and then in the heat with no air-conditioning. None of us expect to get rich doing this – we just want a bit of job security,” she concluded.
Sogesco was unable to be reached for comment.