CT school districts ‘avert disaster’; Waterbury school bus company fears future walkouts with vaccine mandate

Connecticut

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Stephen Gardner said he couldn’t sleep well Sunday night. Gardner is the general manager of All-Star Transportation. He’s based in Waterbury, but All-Star school buses transport more than 45,000 students to-and-from school each day in New Haven, Litchfield and Fairfield Counties.

With hundreds of school bus drivers across Connecticut threatening not to show up for work Monday, he was bracing for the worst. Fortunately, he didn’t have to do that. He told News 8 only eight drivers called out Monday.

“It was a huge weight off of my shoulders,” Gardner said.

Susan Griffin is one of those drivers who did not call out Monday.

“I have a very good work ethic and I wouldn’t want to cause my company to be short,” Griffin said.

School bus companies across the state are already dealing with a severe school bus driver shortage, but they got good news today.

A spokeswoman with the Connecticut School Transportation Association (COSTA) told News 8 there was no major problem with significant bus driver call-outs Monday.

“The best way to put it is a disaster was averted this morning,” said Ann Baldwin of COSTA.

News 8 heard from districts all over the state. Officials from Bristol, Hamden, Hartford and Waterbury said their districts were not significantly impacted. Manchester reported that two bus routes were running late Monday morning, but did not give specific information as to why saying Mondays are typically more of a challenge than other days of the week.

Still, Gardner has concerns. He believes his company will lose more drivers in the future because of the governor’s vaccine mandate.

“I firmly believe that as the weeks go on with this testing for COVID, our employees will decide not to test or will find jobs where they’re not required to test for it,” he said. “Because it’s inconvenient, it’s out of their own time for people to get tested.”

“We currently have approximately 190 employees that are not vaccinated,” added Gardner. “And we’re worried we could lose a good chunk of those drivers at some point.”

To try and keep their drivers, All-Star Transportation is giving out annual bonuses earlier and giving drivers financial incentives to help find new people.

“We’re continuing to hire,” Gardner said. “We have currently over 60 employees in our training program, which is phenomenal.”

But, he has this message for Governor Lamont:

“Please exempt school bus drivers from this mandate,” he said. “We don’t go into schools. We’ve been doing this for over a year without a vaccine mandate and we’ve been doing it safely. Not one of our school bus drivers gave COVID to a student. No student gave COVID to any of our school bus drivers.”

Gardner hopes to sleep easier Monday night.

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