By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – It’s tough enough driving a bus for sick people, seniors and others who need more help than just a ride, but to have to do it for $12.79 an hour is frustrating and disheartening.
But that’s the situation 65 Alternate Transportation Systems (ATS) drivers – members of ATS Council 6600, a local of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO – were working under until Sunday, March 28, when they reached agreement on a raise to $15 an hour in a new contract that has been 19 months in the making and still is not final.
The ATS contract is administered by Southwestern Illinois College through a grant with St. Clair County Transit District. Last week, on March 24, drivers rallied outside the college before going inside to meet with college administrators.
The drivers said money is available in the program’s grant, so there was no reason for the college not to give hard-working drivers a raise. College officials responded with a preliminary offer of $2.21 raise, which would bring the drivers to $15 and hour, pending further talks this week to complete the contract.
SHORT PAY LONG HOURS
Driver Sheila Forest, said she takes four people to their jobs in St. Louis and helps a women get to her dialysis treatments. She is paid for only 28 hours a week but said she typically works eight hours or more beyond that.
“We’ve got to be there for these people, because nobody else is,” Forest said. “We love our people. They all know me by name.”
Terri Towler, field service director for the IFT office in Fairview Heights, said the drivers are in serious need of a better contract.
“The hold-up is basically the salaries,” she said. “Bus drivers around this area make $16 to $17 an hour, but these people make $12.79.
“They only work 28 hours a week so that they can keep them under the 30-hour a week maximum so they don’t have to pay them health insurance. We’re trying to change that by getting them to hire actual full-time drivers,” she said.
A VITAL SERVICE
The job these drivers do is vital because of the many needs of the riders that drivers carry out.
“They are the ADA-accessible people, they are the elderly, they are people who need to go to dialysis,” Towler said. “They help them off the bus, take them to the door, push their wheelchairs.
“The riders are people who don’t have a driver’s license to go shopping or get to work. It is basically a community service, and at $12.79 an hour, it’s just not enough to live on and raise a family.”
The drivers are considered Essential Employees, meaning they have worked throughout the pandemic. Until the meeting last week, the college was offering the drivers a raise of only 64 cents an hour, which would have brought them to $13.43.
“It’s not like we’re waiting on the state for money,” Towler said before reaching the breakthrough to bring the drivers to $15.
“They’ve worked all throughout the pandemic picking up sick people, which is a risk to them and their health. We’ve got to get them up to $15.”