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Gresham-Barlow bus drivers boot union, union challenges vote

Gresham-Barlow School District bus drivers voted out their union, but union organizers are challenging the vote with the National Labor Relations Board.

The drivers are employees of First Student Inc., not the school district. Gresham-Barlow contracts out district transportation services to First Student, a large Cincinnati, Ohio-based student transportation company.

The drivers voted to decertify or disband their union by a vote of 62 to 32 on Tuesday, Sept. 29. But Timothy Welp, field representative for the Oregon School Employees Association, the driver’s union, called the election “flawed.”

The National Labor Relations Board received the union’s challenge to the vote on Tuesday, Oct. 6, and is in the process of investigating, said Jessica Dietz, the officer in charge of the Portland NLRB office.

The OSEA also filed an unfair labor practice complaint against First Student on Sept. 23, a week before the union vote. Dietz declined to disclose the charges in the unfair labor practices complaint but said “many of the issues are parallel.”

These two filings could be combined or treated separately.

“We believe the employer violated numerous labor law practices,” Welp said of the filing.

He declined to characterize the objections, but noted “they are numerous.”

Until the objections to the decertification vote are resolved, the OSEA continues to be the bargaining unit for the bus drivers.

“It is very early in the process,” Dietz said.

The Gresham-Barlow district declined to comment on the decertification vote, saying that it is a matter between First Student and its employees.

First Student did not respond to several requests for comment.

The decertification comes as the bus company is scrambling for drivers. As the economy improves, First Student — and schools in general — have a hard time recruiting bus drivers. The starting salary for a driver at First Student is $11.85 per hour, according to a recruiting notice on Gresham-Barlow’s website.

“First Student is experiencing a significant driver shortage,” conceded Athena Vadnais, Gresham-Barlow’s communications coordinator. “We are working with First Student to address this issue.”

Some parents say there are problems with bus service for Gresham-Barlow students this year. And, the district admits “there have been some challenges in the area of transportation. The school district is working closely with First Student to address these challenges.”

Partially to work around the driver shortage, “First Student essentially rerouted the entire district over the summer,” Vadnais said. “The result was the elimination of approximately 25 routes.”

First Student boasts on its website that it serves 1,300 school districts nationwide and “completes six million student journeys each day, moving more passengers than all U.S. airlines combined.”


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