I’ve been covering school districts in three different states off and on since 1996. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all that time, it’s that certain low-paying jobs are hard to fill, especially seasonal occupations like paraprofessionals and bus drivers.
The pandemic has sparked a labor shortage not seen in a generation. Some people are afraid to return to work for fear of contracting COVID; some have child care problems; others were laid off and have since found better opportunities elsewhere; still others would rather exhaust their unemployment benefits before returning to the daily grind.
About a month ago, it became abundantly clear that public schools in Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities were going to have trouble finding enough drivers to operate the buses that bring students to and from school. The shortage was evidently made worse because Gov. Ned Lamont had issued an executive order mandating proof of vaccination or regular COVID testing for school district employees and contractors. The order goes into effect today.
A trade association representing the bus drivers conducted a survey indicating that 227 drivers have said they will refuse to either get vaccinated or subject themselves to regular testing. In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has much the same problem. Baker has actually called out the National Guard to help transport students in four of the poorest cities in the state.
Connecticut is in a different position than many other jurisdictions. School districts in some states, such as New York, actually own their own school buses and hire their own drivers and mechanics to maintain the vehicles. But Connecticut districts typically contract with transportation companies that supply the vehicles and labor.
The agreements between the districts and the school bus companies are typically multi-year, so the bus contractor would be hard-pressed to simply raise wages in order to tempt the vaccine-averse to get back behind the wheel.
If an employer is having trouble finding help, “capitalism has an answer,” as New York Times columnist David Leonhart wrote in May: raise the wages. That might be difficult for bus companies that are locked into multi-year contracts with school districts.
It’s possible the parties would have to get together and renegotiate their contracts. If the drivers’ wages can be raised, say by 20 to 30%, more people will be lured to the job. Perhaps even the vaccine-hesitant could be bribed to return to work. Heck, it’s better than calling out the National Guard. Besides, no one knows when this crippling labor shortage will end.
Speaking of COVID, it can be comforting to know that Connecticut is a relatively forward-thinking state with a lot of smart people who want to do the right thing. But every now and then, we are reminded that our state has more than its share of knuckleheads.
The state Medical Licensing Board last week suspended the license of a Durham physician for passing out medical exemptions for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines and mask wearing, Lisa Backus reported for C-HIT.
According to the state Department of Public Health, Dr. Sue McIntosh didn’t make much of an attempt to conceal the fact that she was (allegedly) committing fraud. Without even examining the “patients,” she would approve exemptions, sight unseen, to anyone who sent her a self-addressed, stamped envelope containing a blank form.
“You may copy and distribute as many forms as you wish to anyone,” said McIntosh’s instructions. “Keep blank copies for yourself for future use … Let freedom ring!”
It really is appalling that a highly trained professional who took the Hippocratic Oath to “first, do no harm,” would participate in such quackery by providing medical advice that is clearly harmful to public health — all under the spurious banner of “freedom.” Click here to see the “suspension cover sheet” provided by the examining board and linked by C-HIT. Pretty shocking stuff. After McIntosh is reinstated, perhaps she can find some new patients in Cheshire.
Readers who saw or shared my recent column on Hartford HealthCare’s questionable advertising practices might enjoy reports of the latest misadventures of the company’s gold-plated marketing department.
Writing in Lenny Grimaldi’s fine blog, Only In Bridgeport, retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez inveighed against HHC’s attempt to strongarm the Bridgeport Planning & Zoning Commission into allowing the company “to install a garish 8-foot sign on the roof” of St. Vincent’s Medical Center, one of its properties in the city’s North End.
Bridgeport’s zoning code does not allow for the proposed 199-square-foot sign, nor does it allow for the Zoning Board of Appeals to make an exception. Not surprisingly, the suits at HHC would not take not take no for an answer. They went over the ZBA’s heads and approached the city’s Office of Planning and Economic Development about changing the signage code.
P&Z will continue deliberating on the matter at a hearing tonight. The commissioners should reject the proposed revisions to the code. If one powerful party can get the city to rewrite the zoning code to suit its needs, then the city opens itself to charges of “spot zoning.”
It would create a perfect opening for lawsuits from those who don’t want HHC to effectively change the regulations to meet its needs. Besides, as Lopez notes in a delicious dig at HHC’s marketing team, “They want huge signs to make sure that everyone knows that they are an occupying presence in the City.”
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at PolitiConn and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at email@example.com.
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.