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School district calls bus driver sickout ‘unlawful’

<i>KSBW</i><br/>The Pajaro Valley Unified School District calls the bus driver sickout 'unlawful.'
The Pajaro Valley Unified School District calls the bus driver sickout 'unlawful.'

By Felix Cortez

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    WATSONVILLE, California (KSBW) — A sickout by school bus drivers in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District is being described as unlawful and a violation of the CSEA Collective Bargaining Agreement, according to a statement released late Monday by district superintendent Michelle Rodriguez.

The same letter says the bus drivers did not give notice to the district they would be engaging in a “work stoppage.”

The sickout started Friday. On Monday, the district was again forced to cancel all bus routes except for special education students, leaving parents scrambling to find alternative transportation.

“Some parents are probably staying home because they don’t have the ability to take their kids to school, but we’re making it work, we’re making it work,” said Cynthia Lopez, whose first-grade daughter rides the bus to school.

The district’s superintendent says bus drivers were informed Friday that their sickout was unlawful and they need to return to work.

Instead, more bus drivers called out on Monday. According to the district, 39 of its 48 drivers did not report to work. Thirty-eight called out on Friday, officials said.

More than 5,000 students rely on the district’s bus service to get to school. The work stoppage is taking a toll on those students.

The district reports attendance was down 4 percent on Friday. Attendance numbers for Monday were not yet available.

“We’re paying the price as the community you know,” said Lopez. “Hopefully, kids do go to school. They’ll find another way and this will all end.”

The district appears to be baffled by the sickout because it has reached a tentative contract agreement with union leaders that includes a 12.5% pay raise and $4,800 in retention and one-time bonuses.

“We don’t understand because we haven’t been approached about this and we have had a very positive working relationship with the union,” Alicia Jiménez, the district’s spokesperson.

Superintendent Rodriguez says bus drivers have not reached out to the district about the reasons they are refusing to work.

“It’s certainly a disservice to our community to have adults not coming to the table and having a conversation when the most important thing is for us to have the students in the classroom,” Jiménez said.

KSBW 8 reached out to union leadership for comment on the sickout but as of late Monday evening had not heard back from them. District leaders say they also reached out to union leadership.

“CSEA has informed the District they will be reaching out to members who are participating in the work stoppage and instructing them to comply with the contract,” Rodriguez said.

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