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I work in the City of Syracuse as a bus driver. I work hard everyday to make sure that students with special needs get where they need to go safely. I have been driving busses since 1981, and have been at my current job for six years. My bus company benefits from having a contract with the City of Syracuse and as a result now has to pay its employees a living wage ($11.60 with health benefits or $13.70 without in Syracuse).

Wages were really low before the living wage. Drivers started at $9.63 an hour. That’s not enough to live on. Since the Living Wage Ordinance in the City of Syracuse was instituted in 2006, wages have gone up, and that makes a big difference, especially since we only work 10 months out of the year. Drivers now start at $17.07, and monitors start at $13.63.

A living wage is just that – enough to get by on. It isn’t enough to really be able to save for my future, especially since I had a major heart attack a few years ago and had no health insurance. I have been swimming in $60,000 in medical bills from a quadruple bypass and its side effects ever since. This has been a huge burden on myself and my family, one that would be even more difficult, almost impossible, to face without a living wage.

The increase in wages to something people can live on has made a big difference for everybody. Attitudes have become more positive around the bus garage and people are staying on the job longer. Truth is, you can’t survive without the living wage. If we ever lost it, we’d have to either find a second job or a new job altogether.

The county doesn’t have a living wage ordinance; I know bus companies over there are scrambling for drivers. They can’t keep them because the wages are so low; the drivers end up either coming to work with the city or another school district. When I worked in a county garage, in two years I went from 67th in the seniority line to 28th. Now that’s high turnover! As a bus driver, I know how important it is to those kids to see the same faces everyday. It won’t get any better until all drivers and monitors get a living wage; they deserve more than poverty wages for the hard work they do.