WATERBURY, Conn. — School districts across the state were bracing for a shortage of hundreds of bus drivers on Monday, all related to a state vaccine mandate that went into effect on Sept. 27th.
“Today was like the first day of school,” said Stephen Gardner, general manager at All-Star Transportation in Waterbury. “You have lots of nerves and anxiety and you’re just kind of looking at your phone waiting for it to ring.”
Gardner, like many others, was anticipating a decent-sized staffing shortage this week. All because of non-compliance with the vaccine mandate for Connecticut school bus drivers. They have to get vaccinated or get tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis, starting now.
Gardner said 35 of his workers told him last week they would not comply with the mandate. As of Monday, only eight people didn't show up to work because of it.
"I think some people were afraid that they were going to lose their jobs and lose their source of income. They’re not really sure if they would get unemployment benefits. So, I think the unknown kind of pushed them." Gardner said. "And I think some people knew that they were going to do it. But they just wanted to see if the mandate would be tossed out."
Ahead of Monday's deadline, around 300 bus drivers in Connecticut told their employers they wouldn’t be meeting the vaccine mandate. Since then, many have changed their mind or districts were able to work around impacted routes.
FOX 61 checked in with DATTCO, one of the largest local companies that provide bus drivers to school districts.
A spokesperson for the company said they "didn't see any significant uptick in no shows and we did not experience any service interruptions.”
The executive director for the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents said in terms of no-shows on Monday, they haven't done a total tally yet. However, she said there were one or two in some districts and five in another district.
"The reality is that a catastrophe was really avoided. And that’s due in part to the fact that there was notice that the governor's mandate went into effect today,” said Ann Baldwin a spokesperson for The Connecticut School Transportation Association (COSTA). “And the hard work and planning on behalf of all the school bus driver association."
However, the fight against the national bus driver shortage isn’t over. They got the job done on Monday, but what happens tomorrow?
"In a lot of places, our managers, our office staff are driving to keep the routes going. But in some cases were doubling up," Gardner said.
Something they hope stops soon, with unemployment benefits running out and more people now applying to become bus drivers, according to COSTA.
"Everybody’s priority is to get kids to school. So, it’s very frustrating when that can’t or doesn't happen," Baldwin said.
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