Owner-Operators Complaint Goes Before Labor Board

Opening statements in a closely watch legal proceeding that may affect status of the owner-operator system in town.

The first hearing into the Newtown owner-operators' complaint against the school district got underway Thursday afternoon with lawyers making their opening statements in Wethersfield.

“This is admittedly an unusual case,” the owner-operators’ lawyer Henry Murray told the three-member state Board of Labor Relations near the start of a three hour hearing. 

At issue is whether the Newtown school bus owner-operators are employees of the district, rather than independent contractors as language in their contracts identifies them. If the owner-operators are found to be employees, the question then moves to whether their collective bargaining rights were violated when the that begins in fall 2012 to All-Star Transportation.

The case is being closely watched by the owner-operators who will lose their livelihood if the All-Star contract proceeds as well as supporters of the decades-long tradition of having town residents own and operate the school district's bus system who see the labor dispute as the only chance of preserving the beloved system.

While the Board of Education has said provisions have been made in the All-Star contract should the owner-operators be deemed employees, Murray is arguing that putting the work out to bid was a violation of the owner-operators' collective bargaining rights.

"The bidding out of the work was a complete departure of historic practices," he said.

To support the argment that the owner-operators are employees, Murray said the school district pays for liability insurance, fuel, two-way radios and in some cases health insurance. The district also holds driver training, maintains driving records, administers random drug testing, disciplines drivers when necessary and provides close supervision of the drivers, Murray said.

In Connecticut, the distinction between employees and independent contractors is governed by their relationship with one another and not simply by what is written down on tax forms or other documents, the lawyer said.

Murray said in this case, the owner-operators were subservient to the school district as employees rather than "at arm's length" contractors and that the owner-operators were treated as if they were a collective bargaining unit.

"The board will see evidence that throughout this period of time the respondent and complainant bargained with each other, the respondent has consistently dealt exclusively with the contract committee in negotiating mid contract changes and not with individual members," he said, adding that the school district's own transportation consultant raised doubts as to whether the owner-operators could be viewed as independent contractors.

At the same time, the school district's lawyer Floyd Dugas argued there were many other details of the relationship that were not of an employer-employee nature. For instance, the drivers must pay for their own workers compensation insurance and about a third of the 33 owner-operators have formed limited liability companies and report their income to the state and federal government in that manner rather than as individuals.

Murray later countered through the testimony of owner-operator Carey Schierloh that the LLC formation was at the request of the school district.

Dugas also argued the owner-operators may be saying they are a collective bargaining unit – but now, only after a request for bids, which the lawyer referred to as a "request for proposal," was issued and All-Star was awarded the contract – rather than at any other time in their long existece.

"When the school district, realizing it has the third highest transportation costs in the state and that local ordinances required competitive bidding going out for a bid for certain types of contracts – when the school district went out and did that for the first time in 75, 80 years, just when the RFP is posted for the very first time, we hear the words 'employees' and 'labor organization,'" Dugas said. "It was never asserted until the RFP was attempted."

In addition, Dugas argued it would be hard for the owner-operators to say that their collective bargaining rights were violated when they submitted a bid in response to the RFP.

"It was made plain and clear to these folks, there would be an RFP and ironically, they submitted a bid," he said. "So there's no surprise here. There's no demand to bargain and so we think that is a third every significant hurdle."

While Schierloh offered testimony to support Murray's argument, her cross examination by Dugas was postponed to a future meeting, and expected to take hours, the lawyer said.

The labor relations board is expected to meet Feb. 15 and March 7 with the possibility of a third hearing tentatively set for March 15.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to insert the term, "request for proposal," which was used by lawyer Floyd Dugas to refer to the request for bid issued by the school district for a new bus contract. For a video of the opening statements by both lawyers, go to this article,

Emma January 04, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Po, it is a fact that many people, myself included, asked for details of your plan, were promised answers, but none were ever given. Seriously, for myself and many others, that had a significant negative impact.
Po Murray January 04, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Emma, So--- if I gave you more detail on the budget plan, you would have voted for me? If you voted for Pat, you voted for her without knowing the details of how she plans to achieve a flat budget. Water under the bridge at this point. I was willing to serve if elected but I am happy being an ordinary citizen. I wish them lots of success achieving the goals they outlined during the election.
yoda January 05, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Everyone in the world gets two weeks off with double pay!!
Emma January 05, 2012 at 12:27 AM
I'm saying I voted for Pat Llodra b/c of her performance pver the past 2 years, not b/c of the storms. With little details from the IPN, there was not an INFORMED choice. In addition, I didn't see action from Mr. Furrier during his 2 years on the BOS to give me any confidence he would do a better job than Mrs. Llodra.
Sam Mihailoff January 05, 2012 at 12:29 AM
I'm turning your name in for Cyber Teasing...shame on you you for taunting that nice lady
Newtownpatchreader January 05, 2012 at 12:51 AM
@Emma....you made me laugh out loud. Thank you.
Newtownpatchreader January 05, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Po, Where and when did Pat say "flat budget" ? I thought she said it would be very difficult to achieve a flat budget.
Roger Beeseler January 05, 2012 at 02:20 AM
I voted for Jnet becasue she called me every night with clear acurate information about both storm events. She could have hired a PR consultant to do some coaching and made a video with some local high school students.....But Pat did the old fashion thing, she spoke to me like a human being with truth,honesty and clarity and she followed through on her promises. yep thats why I voted for her
yoda January 05, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Sam, I was given constructive creadisissum, which we all receive as adults. We think about it and work on those areas, its self-improvement! She’s always on the defense. Hey were is that 5%
Catherine January 05, 2012 at 02:54 AM
@Po re:"we need continue to work on diplomacy" International diplomacy doesn't fall on the shoulders of students or community.U.S.and China's relationship is strained at best with China refusing to follow through on mutual agreements.Remember: China's allegiance with North Korea's agression against South Korea as well as supporting an embargo against Japan.The only upside to China's consistient egregious behavior is that it has served to open the door for reassertion of US leadership and commitment with traditional allies and broaden relations with newer partners in Asia.While no fan of Hilary Clinton,I do agree with her position that China live up to its commitment to universal values through habits of cooperation.Yes NICE funded recent trips, but prior grants were from the state funded by our taxes. Also, please factor in incidental costs incurred for substitute teachers, from work not completed, disrupted studies,welcome meals, entertainment etc. Many costs are not quantifiable in currency. Then there is China's one child family policy.Yes, the country is overpopulated, but the implementation and resulting consequences of this policy is just horrific.Girl babies are often unrecorded, left with relatives, adopted out, abandonded at overcrowded orphanages or worseThe message is heard loud and clear that girls are disposable. UNACCEPTABLE.There are many other countries to consider when introducing new cultures.Let's choose one that appreciates and cooperates with the world.
onceuponanewtown January 05, 2012 at 04:50 AM
Another LongTimeResident January 05, 2012 at 11:40 AM
A music teacher from Reed went to China last year. Unfortunately, there was no accommodation made for her absence. No sub was hired and the kids were told to go hang out in the library.
Sam Mihailoff January 05, 2012 at 11:52 AM
the teacher certainly brought a wealth of information back to share with the eager young students...NOT
Po Murray January 05, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Catherine, Thomas Friedman said "By 'flat' I did not mean that the world is getting equal. I said that more people in more places can now compete, connect and collaborate with equal power and equal tools than ever before. That's why an Indian in Bangalore can take care of the office work of American doctors or read the X-rays of German hospitals." Yes--China has issues but we have a bigger issue. Our children and our grandchildren will not be able to compete in a global market without the proper training and understanding of the flat world. I was born in South Korea and I can tell you that they learn English at a young age because they understand the importance of communication in the 21st century world. Their highly competitive spirit should scare us into action. The fact that Newtown, CT is doing something about promoting the US is amazing. The NICE program is worth supporting. There will be significant positive qualitative impact on our community, our country and the world. NICE program is expected to expand beyond China. The New York Times will be writing an article when the Chinese delegates arrive in Newtown in February and PBS is expected to film something about the program. The community will be invited to many of the wonderful events when the delegates arrive. Please consider coming.
Po Murray January 05, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Newtown Patch Reader, "Perhaps the biggest divide between the two appeared their approach to budget setting with Llodra favoring an approach that she has done in the past in which town departments and agencies forward to her a budget request with no increases in personnel, materials, supplies and programs. She and the selectmen then try to pare down the costs while maintaining the same services. The goal would be to keep spending flat while still providing “the same level of services or at least the appropriate level of services,” Llodra said." http://newtown.patch.com/articles/llodra-furrier-debate-budgets-school-bus-contract-fairfield-hills
Carey Schierloh January 05, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Po...Pat DID say a zerp % budget would be hard to achieve (see Bee quote below). Pat has already accomplished budget reductions...back to 2007-2008 levels. Details of the reductions have been very public. Pat said she will continue to seek savings and there are studies in process...ie combining services between town and schools ...to find further savings. What more details do you want? The IPN does not have the accomplishment of budget reduction and refused to detail their plan. Do you really not see the difference? "Mrs Llodra and Mr Rodgers pledge to continue working with town departments, boards, and commissions to seek savings, while working to find that right balance between costs and services. "A zero-percent increase in the town budget will be difficult to achieve," the officials admitted."
Sam Mihailoff January 05, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Perhaps PBS can show the value of the Chinese music class at Reed...thus far I fail to see the validity or benefit especially when there already is a global music program in place. u-tube videos and Orff instruments...OUTSTANDING!!!
Anthony DiVanno January 05, 2012 at 04:18 PM
$$$$ BOTTOM LINE $$$$: ...the O/Os refuse to accept continued employment with All-Star because they are not paid enough and they expect us to over compensate while we are cutting teacher assistant positions because of lack of funds. Come on, if this matter was about the kids the same people who continue to "wag the dog" would be out there banging their drums to approve the education budget...BUT, it is just the opposite!
Newtownpatchreader January 05, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Po, Pats quote was to keep same level of service. Not flat. Flat was added by the author of the article. She has always said same services.....not flat. She did say, as Carey points, flat would be difficult. I get a kick out of how vocal you were in the past regarding you frustration with the media and their reporting.....specifically the Bee....and now you quote them whenever it fits your purpose.
Anthony DiVanno January 05, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Well said
Catherine January 05, 2012 at 07:00 PM
'Yes-China has issues but we have a bigger issue'For the love of God,what issue in Newtown is bigger than an alliance with N Korea,embargo on Japan,lack of commitment to coorperate with other countries and DISPOSABLE GIRLS?"Our children and our grandchildren will not be able to compete in a global market without the proper training and understanding of the flat world"Training and understanding of a flat world can't be accomplished via a relationship with a country that is not participating/contributing to that goal.Re: Friedman quote"I said that more people in more places can now compete ,connect and collaborate with equal power and equal tools than ever before" doesn't apply to China who does not connect and collaborate with equal power and equal tools.We need relationships with countries that walk that talk.Thus,it is just not possible for these visits to produce any real "significant positive qualitative impact on our community,our country and the world"The fact remains:The Emperor is not wearing clothes..China is not a friend to our country and this sojourn is a slap in the face to the US and other countries that are working/striving together for the benefit of this world.My mother in law grew up in China, had many fond memories of life there. Her family left when the Red Army ordered them to do so. Over the yrs her happy memories diminished ;replaced with sadness/disgust of what China has become..btw: Who is paying for the community events? PS Go O-O!
Tom Bittman January 05, 2012 at 08:49 PM
You don't have to like China or Chinese policies, but you can't ignore them. You owe them money - they own $1.2 trillion of U.S. debt (25% of all foreign-owned debt - it was only 6% in 2000). They're supporting our unaffordable standard of living. Their economy is growing much faster than our own to become #2 in terms of GDP in 2010 (passing Japan), and will probably pass the U.S. by 2020. China does not just produce toys - their industry grows at the expense of U.S. industry. Their military budget is $92 billion and growing at double-digit rates. There are four Chinese for every American - and they don't have the same expectations of luxury that pampered and debt-ridden Americans have. They are a significant competitor, partner, potential customer, and debt-holder. There is no doubt in my mind that the most important relationship the U.S. needs to focus on in the 21st century is with China. There is no logic in trying to ignore them. Especially if the U.S. wants to remain a world leader. So things like this exchange are valuable for the next generation. P.S. One of the factors in the cost of the high school expansion in our little Newtown was the growing cost of steel - partly caused by the massive growth taking place in China (the #1 worldwide consumer of steel). In 2000, China consumed about 18% of the world's steel. In 2010, it was 45%. We're very connected.
Newtown Resident and Teacher January 05, 2012 at 11:46 PM
The N.I.C.E. program provides opportunities for students (and the community) to have international/global experiences at their own comfort level, from hearing about another person's travels, to participating in community activities (e.g. Japan Film Festival), to being involved in the planning/fundraising/promotion of activities and trips, to participating in a delegation to another country. The N.I.C.E. program is optional and is expanding to include more than one country. The fact that the program started in China should not (to those who do not like China) overshadow the possibilities that this program is opening up for our students. Having said that, this article is about the O/O's, and we seem to have strayed off-topic.
John morse January 06, 2012 at 12:28 AM
It is generally believed that Chinese intelligence agencies operate differently from other espionage organizations by employing primarily academics or students who will be in their host country only a short time, rather than spending years cultivating a few high-level sources or double agents.[4][5][6] Much information about the Chinese intelligence services comes from defectors, whom the PRC accuses of lying to promote an anti-PRC agenda.[7][8][9][10] One known exception to this rule is the case of Katrina Leung, who was accused of starting an affair with an FBI agent to gain sensitive documents from him. A U.S. judge dismissed all charges against her due to prosecutorial misconduct.[11][12] The United States believes the Chinese military has been developing network technology in recent years in order to perform espionage on other nations. Several cases of computer intrusions suspected of Chinese involvement have been found in various countries including Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, India and the United States.[13][14][15]
philip carroll January 06, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Happy to see you have all the answers again Tom.
john pookman January 06, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Tom-thats a Po' excuse to cater to a country because they own stock in ours.I bet the steel used in the expansion of NHS was manufactured there as well. The problem here is backbone which we lack on the local and national levels. I don't argue China's might but we gave it to them and shame on us for it.That is no reason to mold ourselves in their image. Deceit is not to be honored in a society just because they have the money and the power. Where is our pride? Isn't that what we were sold on th past 20 years and failed miserably by? Greed and entitlement.I respect those for their moral compass not their wallets or stature that were ill received. As for the O-O's. How can we lie down like dogs for the teachers unions and give it all away when the drivers ALSO have an interest in the lives of our kids?What benefits if any do they have or a union? This age old excuse of the poor school teacher is beyond me. It's like talking about pay while receiving a lapdance. FOR WHAT YOU DO-YOU ARE OVERPAID NOW! GET OVER IT!
Tom Bittman January 06, 2012 at 06:06 AM
John, I certainly wasn't saying we should mold ourselves in China's image in any way at all. I was talking about understanding them. Keep your friends close, and enemies closer. Not sure what they will end up being, but my point is it doesn't make sense to only have relationships with nations we "like" - and also, that we already have a fiduciary relationship with them, whether we like it or not. Personally, I don't like it one bit - I don't like the debt we're ringing up, and I don't like that the debt (and our future) is controlled significantly by a country that I don't trust. But here we are.
Sam Mihailoff March 07, 2012 at 07:58 PM
TODAY IS ANOTHER OWNER OPERATOR HEARING Is anything in Patch?...NO!!! legal papers were submitted regarding the transportation contract...anything in Patch?...NO!!! http://newtownbee.com/News/News/2012/03-March/2012-03-06__14-43-52/Bus+Company+Owner+Alleges+%E2%80%98Fraud%2C+Favoritism%E2%80%99+In+Awarding+All-Star+Bid Board of Finance meeting 03-05 ANY real details on Patch?...NO!!! http://view.liveindexer.com/ViewIndexSessionSLMQ.aspx?ecm=634667290743060303&indexSessionSKU=nneU1ZMt5ZiXAduagETIiQ%3D%3D&siteSKU=0eiAIntRj6kCzB5Ag38V1A%3d%3d It certainly appears that along with Hoa's departure, any and all reporting skills departed also. But lets please see more photos of what the restaurants are serving and have another stupid irrelevant poll, shall we?
onceuponanewtown March 07, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Maybe all of the problems will disappear if we don't know about them....?
onceuponanewtown March 07, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Thank you for the links Sam!


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