National Guard Ordered by Massachusetts Governor to Work as School Bus Drivers

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to huge labor shortages and affected many businesses, especially bus drivers. The transportation sector has been one of the most negatively impacted, as people fear returning to life as normal.

In the weeks since students returned to in-person learning, schools in Massachusetts and other districts have been dealing with staffing shortages. Most significantly, there has been a notable reduction in the number of school bus drivers, and this is reaching a tipping point. As Jalopnik reports, with the situation worsening by the day, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker was forced to call in the National Guard to help. 250 Massachusetts National Guard members were deployed, with 90 of them immediately enrolled for vehicle training.

Reasons for staffing shortages

A National Guard member driving a school bus in Massachusetts
A National Guard member driving a school bus | David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Obviously, the pandemic has affected people’s willingness to go back to work, given the many lives lost. It is not surprising that most of the labor force would want to take their time before resuming their 9-5 jobs. Despite attracting potential applicants with lucrative wages, many schools continue to experience transportation issues.

However, some people don’t think the pandemic has anything to do with the staffing shortages witnessed in many districts. According to a U.S. News blog, people may have gotten lazy and comfortable because of the government’s weekly unemployment benefits. The theory is that the allocation of unemployment benefits is preventing non-disabled people from working is common among employers and their lobbyists, despite there being no evidence to support the claim.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, John Kabateck, California State Director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said, “The Federal Government’s extra $300 it added to state unemployment benefits comes to an end in early September, so it will be a matter of time before showing up for work is a better-paying proposition than remaining on the couch watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island.”

It is also important to note that another important reason why people are hesitant to go back to work is that they feel that, in addition to being underpaid, their employers are not doing enough to protect them from coronavirus. Ideally, most people feel safer at home than at work.

The National Guard in Massachusetts

As Jalopnik reports, according to a joint survey carried out by the National School Transportation Association, The National Association for Pupil Transportation, and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, approximately 65% of respondents cited the bus driver problem as their top problem or concern.

Top executives also established that while bus driver shortage has been an ongoing issue throughout the pandemic period, and finding a lasting solution will not come easy. 78% of the respondents indicated that the problem is getting a “little worse” or “much worse.” 65% of them classified the problem as “severe” or “desperate.”

This caused Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to call in the National Guard to assist with transportation needs. Most of the National Guard members were put to work immediately across the state, while others were first put in training before being assigned to a location and route.

According to The Drive, once trained, the Guardsmen will be of service throughout the state. Still, the first batch will be sent to serve the areas of Lynn, Chelsea, Lowell, and Lawrence, with the other 160 remaining on standby in case a need arises in neighboring communities. Nonetheless, National Guard members who are deployed to serve as bus drivers will not be driving the yellow school buses. They will be behind the wheel of 7D automobiles.

The bus driver problem is a nationwide issue

It is further worth noting that the bus driver shortage problem is not only isolated to Massachusetts. It is a common issue affecting other districts throughout the United States. Public schools in Pittsburgh, for example, were short 426 drivers as schools reopened.  This forced the district to delay the opening of schools.

Another school in Wilmington, Delaware, proposed to pay parents $700 per child to provide private transportation for the school year.  Meanwhile, Massachusetts, as previously stated, used the National Guard to provide some temporary relief. A long-term resolution remains unclear.

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