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SEIU Local 535 Dragon--Voice of  the Union-- American Federation of Nurses & Social Services Unioin

Get Involved Activist

Diane Abella, Laidlaw School Bus Driver, Chief Shop Steward

Bus drivers standing with bus in background
Laidlaw School Bus Drivers, l to r, Richard Owens, Steward; Diane Abella, Chief Shop Steward; and Connie Clugston, Vice President

March 2002

When Laidlaw school bus driver Diane Abella took her job, she didn’t realize it would be the start of a love affair with the disabled children who ride her bus every day.

“They are the most loving kids,” says Abella. “I would not want to transport any other kind of child, and I’ve been doing this for more than 14 years. You grow to love them, especially the autistic and Down’s syndrome children. There’s just something about them. They love to hug, they’re friendly and sweet, and just awesome kids. I wouldn’t trade my job for another. It’s very fulfilling.”

Abella and the other Laidlaw school bus drivers pick up each child at home and deliver them to school to attend special education classes. They work with children with all kinds of disabilities, including blindness, autism, cerebral palsy, those who need wheelchairs, and some with life threatening illnesses. “You come to appreciate these children as well as acquire a better appreciation for your own children,” adds Abella. “These kids look to us like we’re their mentors, their friends, and depend on us. To do this job, drivers must love children and have big hearts.”

Driving a bus is not easy. Laidlaw bus drivers must complete rigorous training, complete written and driving tests administered by the California Highway Patrol, know first aid and CPR, and take 20 hours of classroom training. Every day, before taking out their buses, they inspect them to insure their safety. They also must be trained in the handling, securing, and moving of children with serious medical needs.

“We get emotional kids that scream and bang their heads,” adds Abella. “We transport children with oxygen tanks, colostomy bags, everything that you can think of from A to Z. Getting children in and out of the bus can be difficult, especially those with wheelchairs. We have ramps, which require extra care. If you don’t secure them correctly inside the bus they roll and accidents can happen. Everything is done, from the screening of drivers to their training, to insure the safety of the children. That’s our ultimate priority.”

Unfortunately, the public is unaware and doesn’t appreciate the tough job these workers perform everyday. “We deal with the public, irate parents, traffic, and children,“ adds Abella. “That’s why we need the union.”

Drivers do extensive lifting, so health benefits and job health and safety are very important. Pay is also an issue. Though the union has been able to increase salaries, drivers deserve more pay for what they do, says Abella, chief shop steward and contract negotiation team member.

“Because of the nature of our jobs, union solidarity and a strong union presence and voice on the job is very important,” says Abella. “If we didn’t have the union, who knows what our pay would be? Job protection, job security, job fairness. Without the union we’d be sunk. It takes a lot to be a driver. We work hard at our jobs. We deserve respect and recognition. The public needs to know we’re out here doing a good job for the benefit of their children, and we need to get paid better for doing it.”