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Boston School Bus Drivers On The Job, But Tensions Remain

BOSTON — Talks between Boston school bus drivers and the bus operator have ended for now, with both sides expected to return at a later date.

Union leaders say the drivers will remain on the job.

But workers remain upset at how they say they’re being treated. And some school bus drivers say a future work stoppage is possible.

Drivers say they have a laundry list of complaints against parent company Veolia Transportation Inc., which has more than 200 transportation contracts around the world.

Drivers complain about combative management, bureaucratic red tape and an unwillingness to listen.

Driver J.R. Ornay says there’s a lack of respect.

“You talk about people who been here 35 years doing the work,” Ornay said. “We care about these kids more than even some parents.”

But the workers’ biggest complaint is over payroll issues. They say since Veolia took over the city’s bus operations in July, drivers regularly are being paid for fewer hours than they work.

Michael Smith says he’s received checks for only 25 hours worked in a week in which he put in more than 40.

“It’s basically taking money out of our pockets. That’s what it boils down to,” Smith said. “We gotta live! We all gotta work and eat, right?”

Veolia spokeswoman Valerie Michael says the problem is drivers not entering their hours correctly into an electronic pay system implemented in July.

“Some of them are having problems with learning the system,” Michael said. “We have training going on, we’ve had training going on since we put the system into place, and we’re continuing to train.”

Michael says drivers who are not paid correctly are being reimbursed.

Drivers say that can take months.

The two sides met on Wednesday, seeking to hammer out their differences and avoid another work stoppage. They talked nearly all day, with no clear resolution.

But Michael says they left with plans to meet at an unspecified future date.

“Both sides walked away with their homework assignments,” she said, “and have agreed that they would both work diligently on those assignments and would meet up when they have information to share.”

Michael says union leaders have promised Veolia management they will keep drivers on the job while talks progress.

But drivers themselves are not so sure. They say they may walk off again if they feel their grievances are not being heard.

“If it wasn’t for the kids, we’ll [sic] stop again,” said driver Daniel Vilmont. “But I feel bad, the parents need to go to work.”

This week’s action marks the third work stoppage worldwide by Veolia employees this year. Bus drivers in Los Angeles walked off in June, shutting down more than half the city’s bus routes, and 400 drivers declared a strike in Finland in May.

Veolia officials admit they have had issues — as they say any large company will.

But the company says it’s proud of its track record working with labor unions, which includes more than 70 contracts signed over the last two years.

Here in Boston, the company is reviewing the list of 16 demands from the bus drivers’ union.

The first item on that list: complete amnesty for all drivers involved in Tuesday’s walk-off.

This post was updated with the All Things Considered feature version.

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