TAMPA, Fla. -- After a short contract negotiation meeting Wednesday morning, the union representing frustrated school bus drivers and other employees asking for more pay in Hillsborough County walked away from the bargaining table without a deal.
According to Hillsborough School Employees Federation president Iran Alicea, the district offered a meager $300,000 for 4,300 workers. This amounts to less than $70 per employee.
“They asked us to do more with less. There’s hundreds of our bargaining unit positions that are unfilled at this time. We have schools that we’re down two student nutrition employees, two custodians, and our people just keep working. Yet, the district comes back with a $300,000, one-time payment for our bargaining unit,” said Alicea.
Alicea and union Vice President Stephanie MacNeel called the offer “disrespectful."
"They are not making enough to pay their rent. They're not making enough to pay their electric, put food on the table,” MacNeel said. “They deserve an increase."Alicea said 75 percent of the instructional support workers are below the poverty level.
The mounting anxiety is shared by teachers in the district, who are also bargaining for raises. The district has denied $4,000 increases promised to thousands of teachers.
Tonja Cobb, a school bus driver in Hillsborough County for 14 years, says a change in hours has cut her earnings by $6,000 since last year. “You have to rob Peter to pay Paul. Call get extensions on the light bill, call get extensions on our water bill, call and pray that the landlord don’t send you an eviction notice because you can’t pay and make ends meet.”
District officials would not comment, since negotiations are ongoing.