N.J. school bus drivers win wage settlement

Posted: July 04, 2014

Sometime this year, school bus driver Bruce King, 64, of Mount Ephraim, and 1,443 other plaintiffs will receive a check from their employer, First Student Management L.L.C., to settle a wage and hour class-action lawsuit.

For King and dozens of New Jersey drivers, it won't be the first time that First Student has paid up in a federal lawsuit involving accusations of not paying overtime and off-the-clock work.

"They haven't changed their policies," said King, who was among 42 local drivers involved in a case settled in October 2012.

On Tuesday, pending a judge's approval, First Student agreed to pay $1.6 million to school bus drivers in the most recent case, according to papers filed in federal court in Camden.

The suit was filed in March 2013, six months after the previous suit was settled.

First Student declined to comment on the case or its payroll practices.

"We're still not getting what we're supposed to be getting," said King, who used to drive a full schedule and now earns about $15 an hour as a casual driver, working when needed on his days off from another job.

Given the patterns of the past, he said, he expects he'll be back in court again in two years.

"This is an international company," he said. "In the U.S., they have 60,000 drivers. Even if it seems like a minute or two per driver, over the weeks, over the month, over a year, that's a heck of a lot of money for them" to save by shorting drivers.

The settlement requires payment but no changes in First Student's payroll practices.

First Student, based in Ohio, is a division of FirstGroup P.L.C., a British company that also operates Greyhound Lines. First Student's website says the company operates 54,000 buses in the United States and Canada, transporting six million students each day.

The plaintiffs live in Camden, Gloucester, Burlington, and Atlantic Counties, and work from bus yards in Lawnside, Berlin, Delran, and Willingboro, as well as others around the state.

According to the most recent lawsuit, First Student requires each driver to report to the yard at a certain time but does not begin paying the driver until after the employee's badge is swiped at the bus.

At the end of their trips, drivers swipe their badges again but must continue to work "off the clock," the lawsuit says, inspecting the bus, cleaning it, fueling it, reporting problems, and checking to make sure there are no children asleep on it.

When First Student lands a contract, it creates an "estimated route time," the lawsuit said.

If the driver takes less time than the estimate, the driver is paid less when the driver swipes out.

If the driver takes more time, perhaps because of traffic or because children were dismissed late, the driver is paid according to the estimated time unless the driver files an exception report, the lawsuit said.

"I love the work," driver Theresa Singleton, 50, of Camden, said Wednesday. She has been driving since 1999 and earns $15.80 an hour. "I love driving a bus. I love working the kids. But I don't like how First Student treats us."

When her supervisors hold a must-attend meeting for drivers, she said, she isn't paid for the time. When she has to fuel her bus, that's not on the clock either.

"It's not right," she said. "But I need the job and I love it, so I'm going to keep doing it, even though they are gypping us." She estimates that her extra tasks take a half-hour to 45 minutes a day.

Of the $1.6 million, Haddonfield attorney Patrick Cronin, who represents the drivers, will receive $462,000 for work that includes managing the class, documenting lost pay, and reviewing eight similar cases filed against First Student nationwide.

He declined to comment on the case other than to say it was settled amicably.

U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Irenas will decide whether to approve the settlement at a hearing set for July 21.





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