EDMONDS, Wash. — School bus drivers for the Edmonds School District rallied for health benefits after layoffs this summer.
Bill Whalen is an Army veteran turned Edmonds School District bus driver.
He’s been driving kids to school for 13 years.
“I am getting older, but I feel 20, 30 years younger because I am around kids and that to me is important,” he said.
The layoffs were announced in mid-August.
The news that Edmonds School District was laying off 175 bus drivers was a blow to Whalen and his co-workers, and not just because they’re out of a job.
“Our benefits have been cut off, our medical benefits, and a lot of people rely on those benefits,” he said.
The loss of benefits hit fellow bus driver John Granberg especially hard.
“I was nervous about my medical needs, I bought three months’ worth of medication before the insurance ran out so I could make for a while,” Grandberg said.
Jason Powell, the vice president of Teamsters Local 763, the union representing Edmonds school bus drivers, suggested in a prepared statement several alternatives that the district could have considered.
“It makes no sense to me the Edmonds School District did not explore several other options that could have retained their drivers even if that meant to a reduced schedule. They did not explore furloughs, they did not explore the shared work program,” the statement said.
Edmonds School District officials said in a statement that the district, which starts the year with remote learning, just doesn’t have the funds to keep the drivers on staff.
“Funding for transportation is based on student ridership. When ridership falls, funding falls. And unfortunately, until we can transport students again, funding to pay drivers is not an option," according to the statement. "None of us wanted this to happen, and we know this will be a very challenging time for our dedicated bus drivers."
The biggest disappointment for many drivers is not knowing if, or when they’ll see their students again.
“We’re the first people they see in the morning and we’re the last people they see from the school district in the afternoon. We make a difference,” Whalen said.
“Every person that’s here, every single person here wants to support children,” Granberg said.