WCPSS School Bus Drivers on Strike: What Is Going On?


In an email on Thursday, October 28th, Wake County Public Schools System alerted parents of a possibility that some students would not have bus rides to school, due to a bus driver strike (in the form of a “Sickout”) the following day. One-third of the buses did not run their routes, leaving many students unable to ride the bus to school and parents altering their schedules to get their children there on time. On Sunday, October 31, WCPSS officials emailed a similar letter for a Monday strike. ABC 11 reported that 33% of bus drivers did not appear to work on Friday and 25% did not appear on Monday. 


This bus driver strike follows a similar trend of strikes across the country. Bus drivers report that they are understaffed and underpaid, forced to cover additional routes with no extra compensation. Specifically, within Wake County, the base salary for school system employees is $12.75 an hour, and according to MIT, Americans need to make $33.90 per hour or $70,509 per year (before taxes) just to support one adult and one child. Some bus drivers have considered changing professions as they would be paid more working delivering pizza or working for truck companies. 


One of the driving forces behind the strike is the need to take on extra routes, which can be connected back to the pandemic. As about half of bus drivers are 65+ years of age, many of the drivers simply retired or did not return due to worries about contracting COVID-19 when schools opened in the spring and fall. Wake County gave no incentives to returning bus drivers when schools opened besides a slight raise to $15 an hour. Meanwhile other school systems, such as Chapel-Hill Carrboro City Schools, increased their wage for bus drivers to $16.50 an hour, guaranteed full-time employment, increased to a $4,000 signing bonus and $1000 perfect attendance bonus. They also paid for training applicants who still need their operating license, and put a recruiting program in place offering $2000 bonuses.


Sentiments of many drivers were put best by Alicia McNeil, who told ABC 11: “It’s starting to be very challenging to do a job that I’ve taken on. I love it because I love kids, [and] being able to be part of a kid’s education, but now it’s getting to the point where I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that if I don’t get a pay raise.”


The Wake County School System’s board met on Tuesday, November the 2nd and the board approved a one-time $1,250 bonus, a pay increase to $13 an hour for some employees,  and a 1% pay increase for all permanent staffers. 


As of now, most of the bus drivers who were on strike have returned to driving their routes as usual, but a few are still calling in “sick”. They claim that these changes are too little to make any larger impact and that they will continue to protest until their wages are raised by a considerable amount. In an interview with WRAL, an anonymous bus driver said “The board needs to understand that we are not playing [around]. We are after  our raise, and we are not going to stop until we get it.”



“Magnet Fair and a Possible Increase in Bus Driver Absences Tomorrow.” Wake County Public School System, https://www.wcpss.net/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=12&ModuleInstanceID=4225&ViewID=6446EE88-D30C-497E-9316-3F8874B3E108&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=239332&PageID=16. 

“As Wake bus driver protest continues, parents have to pick up their kids from school” The News & Observer,

“As Wake bus driver protest continues, parents have to pick up their kids from school” The News & Observer, 1 Nov. 2021, https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article255435331.html

Walkenhorst, Emily, et al. “Wake Bus Drivers Continue Sick out for Third Day Even after Board Decides on Bonuses.” WRAL.com, WRAL, 3 Nov. 2021, https://www.wral.com/wake-bus-drivers-continue-sick-out-for-third-day-even-after-board-decides-on-bonuses/19959455/. 

Hanson, Amy Beth. “Bus Driver Shortages Are Latest Challenge Hitting US Schools.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 22 Aug. 2021, https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-schools-bus-drivers-168e1e85a329c74159c9f06a05d1611d. 

“Facing an Operator Shortage, CHCCS Approves Incentives to Attract New Bus Drivers.” Chapelboro.com, 17 Sept. 2021, https://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/facing-an-operator-shortage-chccs-approves-incentives-to-attract-new-bus-drivers.