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Labor Board Rules School Bus Owner/Operators Are Not Employees of School Board

In a case of first impression, the State Board of Labor Relations has ruled that owner/operator bus drivers in Newtown are independent contractors and not employees of the School Board.  Newtown Board of Education SBLR Dec. No. 4668 (2013).

In an effort to thwart the school district’s efforts to end an 80 year old system of local owner/operators driving school buses, resulting in some of the highest per pupil costs in the state, the owner/operators filed a charge with the State Labor Board arguing (1) they were employees and not independent contractors, (2) collectively they were a labor organization, and (3) the school district committed an unfair labor practice when it awarded a bus contract to a private contractor following an RFP.

Based on a variety of factors, including that the owner/operators hired and paid their own substitutes, could use substitutes up to 33 1/2 % of the time, deducted the depreciation of the buses on their business tax returns, and that a number of drivers operated as LLC’s, the Labor Board concluded that under the “economic realities” test, the owner/operators were in fact not school district employees, and the committee which bargained rates and other terms with the school district was not a labor organization.  Consequently, the school district was not prohibited from entering into an agreement with a private contractor for school bus services.