Bus drivers at KCI have been involved in 50 accidents in the past 21/2 years, resulting in 25 lawsuits that so far have cost the city $200,000 in settlements.
That’s one reason why aviation director Mark VanLoh said Thursday that he wants to outsource the airport’s bus operation to Standard Parking.
The move would eliminate city jobs for 58 drivers of the blue and red buses at the airport. It would also displace eight management employees, along with 18 vacant positions. Standard Parking said it will try to hire as many of those people as possible, although nothing is guaranteed.
Seven bus drivers and a union representative pleaded Thursday with the City Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee not to approve the new contract with Standard Parking.
“We love our jobs. We need our jobs,” said Donald Perkins, who has been a KCI bus driver for four years.
“This is one of the saddest days I’ve seen,” said Robert Patrick, president of Local 500 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the bus drivers.
VanLoh said city policy allows an airport bus driver to have four accidents in a year before termination, and accidents are costing too much money. He said bus driver turnover, absenteeism and overtime also contribute to the bus operation’s costs.
Privatization of bus operations is common at most airports, and KCI is one of a handful of airports that still operates buses with city employees.
VanLoh estimated the airport can save $7 million over five years by outsourcing the bus operation to Standard Parking, which already runs KCI’s short-term and long-term parking operation.
Under the contract, which would take effect Nov. 1, Standard Parking would cover insurance and snow removal costs and would be responsible for any liability.
The city received three proposals for the contract. Standard Parking was the low bidder at $3.5 million per year.
Drivers complained that their pay will drop from an average of $17 per hour to $11 per hour and said they fear losing their health insurance benefits. The drivers also said the public loves the service they provide.
Jack Ricchiuto, executive vice president with Standard Parking’s aviation division, said the company will work hard to find jobs for the displaced city employees and to treat every employee fairly. He said that with tips, drivers could earn up to $20 per hour. They would also get health insurance and vacation benefits, but they would not have a pension benefit as they have with the city.
City Councilman Jermaine Reed said he was opposed to the idea, which he said would cost good jobs and hurt families in a very tough economy.
“It just doesn’t sit well with me,” he said. “I feel a very, very strong resistance to this.”
The committee postponed a vote until next week. Supporters said they believe they have sufficient support on the full council to approve the contract.