First Student loses arbitration, ordered to pay lost wages

Published: October 29, 2013

Last updated on July 20th, 2016

Calvin Studivant

Calvin Studivant

First Student Bus Company/William Penn School District in Darby, Pennsylvania went to arbitration against the SMART Transportation Division and lost. Representing SMART TD was Bus Department Alternate Vice President Calvin Studivant who went to bat for local 172.

Studivant didn’t do it alone; he had help from General Chairperson Theresa Costantini, Vice Local Chairperson Denise Hall and Local 172 Secretary Kathleen Sitongia along the way. Both Costantini and Sitongia testified in the case against First Student.

“First let me say this case was very important. We arbitrated this case on July 30th which caused me to miss the regional in Anaheim,” Studivant said. “Prior to arbitration we had done mediation and the mediator had informed the company that they were wrong, but since mediation was not binding we pursued it through arbitration. I was the presenter of the union’s case and all the aforementioned were witnesses that together hold over 70 years of experience, therefore I was very confident in the case that we presented.”

Arbitrator Thomas G. McConnell Jr., found that the company was in violation of the Collective Bargaining agreement and ordered the bus company to pay it’s employees back-pay.

“I am ecstatic that we prevailed because it represents a substantial amount of money in back wages and wages going forward,” Studivant exclaimed. “First Student delayed us as long as they could but we refused to be denied. It took a year to hear the case and get an award but the victory was worth the wait.”

According to Costantini, Sitongia and management, members could bid on runs based on the run and the time it took to do the runs. Up until 2012 (the union has had a contract with the bus company since 2008, the most recent contract voted in lasts from 2011 to 2014), members were always paid by the estimated time listed on the job plus any extra time it took to do the run.

If a job was estimated to take two hours and 20 minutes but only took two hours, the member would be paid the two hours and 20 minutes that he or she bid on. If it took the driver two hours and 30 minutes, the driver would be paid the full two hours and 30 minutes.

In 2012, it was decided by management, without union approval, that members would be paid the actual time it took to do the job rather than the estimated time. According to this new policy, the member would only get paid for the two hours instead of the two hours and 20 minutes.

Members choose their runs based on seniority and have two concerns when choosing a run:

  1. How much will I be paid?
  2. When will I get home?

When First Student changed the way drivers are paid, this negatively impacted the seniority system and made these questions null because drivers could no longer have a guarantee of how much money they would be making per run.

Management of the company admits that no dry runs are ever done to determine the estimated times and that the company relies on VersaTrans system to estimate the times for them. VersaTrans is a software routing system that defines a bus route based on parameters put in by the District, including bell times and location of the schools. The VersaTrans system then provides an approximate time of how long the run will take.

Although the contract states that hours stated for a job are estimates and not exact times and that hours are not guaranteed, the contract does not state that actual times instead of the estimates would be used for payroll purposes.

McConnell found that since the company had followed the practice of paying the drivers by estimated times throughout the 2008-2011 contract the company would need to have negotiated a contract change in the 2011-2014 contract as precedence had already been set, which they did not do. It was therefore found that the company violated the collective bargaining agreement and was directed to return to their prior practice of paying by times estimated and not by actual time. The company was also ordered to pay members any lost wages due them.

“I would like to thank GC Theresa Costantini along with secretary Kathy Sitongia who kept meticulous records and chairperson Denise Hall,” Studivant said.

Click here to read the full arbitration award.