Ascension Parish school bus drivers’ strike due to ‘poor working conditions’

We’ve heard school bus driver issues before like staffing shortages and pay, but now there’s a new one in Ascension Parish; heat.
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 5:54 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2023 at 4:37 AM CDT
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ASCENSION PARISH, La. (WAFB) - We’ve heard school bus driver issues before like staffing shortages and pay, but now there’s a new one in Ascension Parish; heat.

Richard Williams is doing what he’s done every day for the past five years.

“I wanted to start driving school buses because I always wanted to drive a school bus,” said Williams.

He doesn’t do it for the money. He does it for the kids.

“The kids are not your kids anymore. They’re my kids,” said Williams. “Once you give them to me, they’re mine.”

However, the last part of his inspection is always the hardest on him; “Once I crank that bus that’s normally sitting in my driveway, the temperature will be at least 110 degrees. The hottest it’s been is 131,” and his kids; “Mr. Richard, it’s hot. Mr. Richard, Johnny passed out. Well, Mr. Richard has to stop the bus and go look at Johnny. I’m not a doctor. I can’t do anything for Johnny but give him some water.”

Williams and the other Ascension Parish School bus drivers are standing up for better conditions for themselves and their kids.

“Every parish around us has had some kind of raise, AC buses,” said Williams. “We haven’t. It’s been promised, but we haven’t, but we’re still coming to work.”Not every bus driver came to work Wednesday morning.

34 drivers went on strike due to the dangerous conditions; leaving 68 routes uncovered.

The Ascension Parish School Board said they ran emergency routes for the almost 3,000 affected students. Now, they’re working to fix the issue.

“The Board is taking steps to do that, there’s just a specific process, a state process, that we have to follow to be able to do that,” said Jackie Tisdell.

The Board’s Transportation Committee voted Tuesday night for staff to come up with a detailed cost plan for installing air conditioning units on buses. Once the plan is approved, the project should get $2 million from the state.

Until that happens, school leaders are working with drivers to get their kids to school.

“We hope that we can come to a resolution and make them feel supported and valued because at the end of the day, we all want our kids to be in the classroom learning,” said Tisdell.

Williams said the fight for better working conditions doesn’t stop today.

“I support what they do, what they did today, but however, I think we need to come together to have a specified plan as to address the issues,” said Williams.

School leaders said it’ll take about 30 days for staff to complete the cost plan for AC on buses. Then, it’ll be brought back to the school board for approval.

As for bus routes for the rest of the week, the board is unsure if the strike will continue and plans to run emergency routes again if needed.

A spokeswoman for Ascension Public Schools confirmed the school district is planning to resume normal operations Thursday, Sept. 21.

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