One of Long Island’s biggest school bus companies is laying off about 900 drivers and other employees Wednesday in the face of school closings because of the coronavirus, according to union representatives, who added that other transportation firms had “done the right thing” by keeping employees on the payroll.
Union officials said the bus company, Baumann & Sons, based in Ronkonkoma, informed workers by letter that their jobs were being terminated and company contributions to their medical insurance canceled. Affected bus drivers and bus monitors had worked in at least 10 districts in the region, including William Floyd, Commack, Northport-East Northport and South Huntington.
Dan Decrotie, head of a Teamsters union representing the workers, said Baumann’s action was particularly disappointing in light of the fact that two other bus firms, WE Towne Bus and First Student, had retained their drivers.
“Baumann didn’t,” said Decrotie, who is president of Local 1205 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “We need to force Baumann to do the right thing. These people [drivers and monitors] are good, hardworking people.”
Later Monday, an attorney for Baumann messaged Newsday that the company’s owners have “deep respect for their employees and the unions that represent so many of them."
Glenn Smith, with Manhattan law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP, added, “As has been explained to each of the unions, if the districts do not pay out monies for the school year, the company quite obviously cannot pay the employees.”
John Goss, a school attorney on the Island, said his firm was reviewing districts’ bus contracts to determine whether clients were bound to continue paying for transportation they no longer received.
“The question is, when schools are closed, do districts still have an obligation to pay?” said Gross, who is senior managing partner of the Ingerman Smith law firm.
One union worker provided Newsday with a letter on company stationery that spelled out the company’s position. According to the letter, layoffs were forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, school closings and the “lack of income coming in from our customers.” The letter adds that workers affected should check on the possibility of extending health insurance coverage under COBRA.
The letter, dated March 20, goes on, “You should know that New York State yesterday issued an order waiving the waiting period for unemployment benefits, [and] we urge you to immediately apply for those benefits. We are optimistic and look forward to recalling everyone from layoff when this crisis passes.”
At the state level, groups representing school bus dealers and operators warned that tens of thousands of transportation workers statewide could lose their jobs, unless Albany provides districts with enough financial aid to continue services when schools reopen. About 2.3 million students in 600 districts statewide normally ride yellow buses daily, the groups estimated.
A statement issued by the groups Monday contended that adequate state funding was needed to ensure bus fleets would be ready when called upon, and “to help save the school transportation industry from potential insolvency.” The dual statement was from the New York State Bus Distributors Association, representing dealers, and the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, representing operators.