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Stronger Living Wage Ordinance for Hartford Bus Workers

Colleen Kopp

March 29, 2010

For Patricia Gaskin, a Hartford school bus monitor and chapter president of Conn. State Employees Association (CSEA), last Monday was a victory for the safety and health concerns of school bus workers and students.

"Although the living wage ordinance has raised standards for school bus drivers and monitors, we believe it needs to be strengthened," said Gaskin in a testimony to the members of City Council. "Too few can afford to live in the city where they work."

Last week, the City Council voted to adopt an improved, stronger Living Wage Ordinance for school bus drivers and monitors working for private transportation companies contracted by Hartford Public Schools.

"In general, when talking about student transportation, there is a real need for basic common sense and fair standards," said Matt O'Connor, communication director for CSEA Local 2001 affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.

The Hartford school district's safety procedure requires all buses to have monitors, hoping to provide safer and more reliable transport for students, said O'Connor.

One result of the vote, is living wage (minimum income needed for the local cost of living) will now be calculated at 120 percent of the federal poverty level, up from 110 percent. O'Connor said $17.78 per hour is still a little short for living in Hartford, but it may increase in July.

Another highlight of the decision is that the law now has explicit reference to Hartford Public Schools and the Living Wage Ordinance is to be applied to all bus workers' contractors, said O'Connor.

Contractors change frequently, but now bus workers can have peace of mind that the set living wage will not be pulled, said O'Connor.

"Once we have an empowered work force with the ability to raise concerns and improvements with employers, then you'll see improvements in student's safety," said O'Connor. "The stronger Living Wage Law is going to help workers be better watchdogs for private bus industry employers."

CSEA provides for salary increases, access to health care, benefits, working conditions and now, especially, a "voice on the job," said O'Connor.

In 2007, a task force was established to look at ways to improve the law and lift low-wage workers out of poverty and to hold contractors to following the spirit of the law. Until Living Wage came to Hartford, school bus employees working for contractors were paid very low, said O'Connor.

The reaction to the vote? "Shouts of joy," said O'Connor. Union members and allies were taken to their feet, "everyone stood up and clapped, and you don't see that very often at the City Council."

Reprinted with permission of the CityLine blog of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the CityLine at http://blogs.courant.com/cityline/ and the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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