Union president retires in midst of bus driver shortage in Lee County

Published: October 29, 2021 5:11 PM EDT
Updated: October 30, 2021 6:13 AM EDT

The president of the Support Personnel Association of Lee County (SPLAC) has signed her retirement papers. This comes in the midst of a bus driver shortage and an ongoing fight for better pay and treatment for drivers.

Jamie Michael says that with COVID-19 and everything else that’s been happening, she’s just tired. Michael says she planned to retire at the end of the year anyway. Bus drivers say they have mixed feelings about their union president leaving now. This is in the middle of contract negotiations.

It’s not even November and it’s already been a long school year for bus drivers in the Lee County School District. There’s an ongoing bus driver shortage and the district claims they need about 100 more drivers.

The School District of Lee County is also currently in the middle of contract negotiations. On top of all of this chaos, the district has already had three drivers die due to COVID-19 complications.

Through all of that, some drivers believe union president Michael didn’t have their backs. “If our union president won’t do the right thing, then we will do what’s best for us as a whole,” one said at a meeting last week.

That driver seems to have gotten their wish. Effective on November 1, Jamie Michael will be the union’s former president. She announced her retirement on Thursday. She says it’s “time to enjoy free time instead of 10 hour days for eight hours of pay.”

Many drivers admit that they are not exactly saddened by Michael’s announcement. One driver asked that WINK News conceal their identity but says they aren’t sad to see her go.  “I was happy. We have all been trying to get her out for a really long time,” they said. “I feel that there should be an investigation on Jamie because it’s really a coincidence that she’s retiring all of a sudden.”

When drivers say “all of a sudden,” they mean right in the middle of contract talks. Michael says negotiations set for Monday, November 1 will not take place because the Lee County School Board did not allocate money to negotiate.

Drivers are worried that without a union president, negotiations will drag on and on for months. “We’re supposed to get a raise and we were hoping for, you know, a better raise because the past 11 years it’s only been like a 2% raise,” said one driver.

“I just would like to see everybody getting treated fairly,” they said.

The Florida Education Association told WINK News that local unions have systems in place to ensure that a smooth transition will take place when someone steps down. Therefore, those contract negotiations will continue.

Jamie Michael served as union president since 2012.