Our Members at Work: First Student

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September 5, 2016

Meet UFCW Local 175 members who work at First Student!

Members at First Student work hard every day to ensure children get to and from school safely. UFCW Local 175 represents about 340 bus drivers in Welland, 57 in Kenora, and 140 in Sault Ste. Marie.

Read it as it appeared in Checkout October 2016.

With the start of a new school year, we all need to remember to do our part. We must slow down, and pay attention around school buses and in school zones.

  • At your children’s school, make sure you’re familiar with the rules for drop-off and pick-up.
  • If you’re driving behind a bus, you MUST come to a complete stop at a safe distance when the bus’s upper red lights flash and its stop sign is extended.
  • Drivers travelling in either direction on a road with no median must stop for a stopped bus. That means, if you’re on a four-lane highway with no physical division between the directions, you MUST stop if a bus is coming toward you and puts on its flashing lights. Do not move forward until the bus’s lights have stopped flashing and the bus begins to move.
  • If you pass a stopped school bus with its upper red lights flashing you can be charged between $400 and $2,000 plus six demerit points for a first offense.
  • When you drive through a school zone, please slow down! School zones have lower speed limits, usually marked between 30 and 50 kilometres per hour, and are often increased fine zones, especially before and after school.

Students have responsibilities too.

  • Be on time and wait at a safe distance from the road for your bus.
  • Walk 10 big steps from the front of the bus to cross the road.
  • Always cross the road in FRONT of the bus – never cross behind.
  • Look all ways for traffic before crossing, and look to the driver for a signal that it is safe as well.
  • Students must remember that their driver needs to concentrate in order to get all the students to their school safely. Behave.

Susan Lowen - First Student MemberIn 2011, Susan Lowen joined First Student in Sault Ste. Marie after working in retail for 11 years.

Halfway through her second year with the company, she became a Steward, and at the end of the 2014/15 school year she became Chief Steward.

“I enjoy having good working relationships with my fellow drivers, management and my Union Sisters and Brothers.” Susan has attended two Stewards’ conferences so far and has completed several courses through the UFCW Canada webCampus too.

“I like driving district and city runs, and in-town and out-of-town charters too,” says Susan. “I’ve been very fortunate to have great kids and parents over the years.”

In 2015, Susan was nominated for ‘Outstanding Bus Driver of the Year’ by one of the schools on her route.

First Student members Heidi & Jim

Jim Montgomery has been a member of UFCW Local 175 for 54 years.

He is a Steward for the Welland group, has participated in negotiations through various contracts, and has served as Executive Board Vice-President for 49 years.

For 39 of his years as a member, he worked at Miracle Food Mart. After retiring from that job, Jim decided to become a school bus driver in September 2000 to supplement his retirement income and for something to do.

“I love kids and it gives me something to do every day,” said Jim. “It’s not a job, it’s my hobby.”

Jim became a Steward out of necessity as there was no one else willing to take on the role. “I feel very supported by the Union and I’ve never regretted becoming a Steward. It lets me help those who might not be able to help themselves.”

First Student Member, MarvinMarvin Gauthier has been employed at First Student for the last 29 years.

He works in the maintenance department and is responsible for ensuring the fleet of buses in Sault Ste. Marie runs safe and smooth.

Marvin is very involved with the Union: He has been a Steward for all of his time at First Student and he has been part of the negotiating committee through seven rounds of bargaining.

First Student Chief Steward Heidi LukacsChief Steward Heidi Lukacs has been driving with First Student since September 2005.

Her previous job as a lead hand in a factory was shift work. “I decided to become a school bus driver because I could bring my child to work,” said Heidi. “As a single mother, this job allowed me to still be a full-time mom too.”

Heidi took on the role as a Steward for the Welland members because she believes that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. “My union looks out for me, my family and my community,” she explained. She enjoys being
a steward because she can hold the company accountable and create an atmosphere of mutual respect.

The best part about driving a school bus for Heidi is the kids: “I love the kids, they are amazing!”

First Student Member CarolSince 1978, Carol Thompson has been a school bus driver.

“I wanted to be at home with my children and still be able to work part-time,” she said. In fact, driving a bus runs in Carol’s family. Her brother and husband are both bus drivers as well, and her daughter is a driver and trainer.

Carol’s favourite part of driving a school bus for First Student in Welland is all the wonderful children, parents, and teachers, and the many friends that she has made over the years.

“I also really enjoy special needs and seniors charters,” she said. “I love my job!”

Richard Atamanyk became a school bus driver in April 2013.

He was a previous volunteer and enjoys teaching young people. Over the years he has also volunteered at Cubs, Beavers, baseball, and karate.

His four grandchildren take First Student buses to and from school. “As a trained tractor trailer and bus driver,” Richard explained, he “wanted to determine the safe status of the buses and drivers.”

Richard says he feels very supported by the Union and his employer in Welland. “The team is and always has been available for information and good advice.”

First Student Member, TerryTerry Smith retired from his job in the steel industry four years ago and has lived in Sault Ste. Marie his whole life.

In September 2013, he decided to start driving a school bus for First Student. Terry, who is married and has one daughter, has been active with Unions his entire working life.

“I believe strongly that Unions provide for and support their members,” he said. “We are assured a comfortable work environment that is safe and free of discrimination, and a good quality of life because of the wages and benefits in
our contract.”

Terry has been a Steward for the past two years and sat on the Union negotiating committee for the contract that the membership ratified in June.

First Student member, CarlyCarly LaDouceur has been a school bus driver at First Student and a part of the Union family for nearly 20 years.

She participated on the Union negotiating committee for this year’s round of bargaining and is active as a Steward for members in Sault Ste. Marie as well.

First Student member ,MaryFor the last 22 years, Mary Guhl has enjoyed being a bus driver.

Her previous employment in hairdressing, a denture clinic, and retail did not allow the flexibility she was looking for. She became a bus driver because the hours were accommodating to her as she raised her children at home.

“My favourite part of driving a school bus is helping children get to school and home safely,” she explained. “I love my job. It makes me proud to know that I’ve contributed to their future education.”

Mary also enjoys working with the public to do various charters throughout the year from the Welland area.

In September 2011, Larry Amadio became a school bus driver after retiring from GM in St. Catharines.

He worked 15 years at the plant as an hourly employee and 26 as a salaried employee.

His decision to start driving a bus was a good one, as his favourite part about his job is being a part of the elementary school kids’ day.

First Student member, RolandRoland Bartlett retired 21 years ago from his job as a Letter Carrier with Canada Post.

In May 2005, he decided to become a bus driver for First Student out of Welland, because he really enjoys working with children and wanted something to do.

“My favourite part about driving the bus is seeing the kindergarten kids going to school and helping seniors,” said Roland. He adds that he feels supported by the Union and that the office staff is always very helpful and informative.

First Student member, MarianneIn May 2001, Marianne Best-Visser decided to become a school bus driver in the Welland area.

“It was cost-effective for our family because I could take my children to work with me. And it runs in the family: My Dad was a bus driver too.”

Previously, Marianne worked as an administrator of a women’s shelter for abused women and children. Her favourite part of driving a school bus is that she has “a chance to make an impact on children and their families. I love being around the kids.”

“I’ve always felt that when I have a problem or need praise, both First Student and the UFCW teams are here for me!”

One challenge that Marianne and other drivers do face though, is ensuring that parents follow all the bus safety rules to set a good example. “It keeps the children safer and makes everyone’s jobs easier too.”

First Student members from KenoraThe five members pictured here from the Kenora group at First Student have a combined 100 years of driving experience.

In fact, Janet Prokopsky was an original member when the employees at Excel first unionized with UFCW. These members enjoy the steady work and dependability of driving a bus, and the advantages of belonging to the Union such as job protection, security, equal rights, and fairness. They don’t believe they would be where they are now without the Union.