YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Nine days after laying off most of its workforce, Baumann & Sons announced it would no longer contribute to any furloughed employees’ medical or dental plans.
“Although we regret having to do this, we have no choice,” the company wrote in a letter to employees on March 20.
The Ronkonkoma-based bus company, which has a contract with the Yorktown Central School District, faulted the district for cutting off its cash flow. However, some drivers who work at the bus company’s Yorktown operation are laying the blame squarely at Baumann’s feet. The school district, meanwhile, is mostly looking to avoid legal problems.
Dolores Naccari, a union shop steward who has worked at Baumann in Yorktown for 33 years, said the union has filed a class-action grievance against the company.
Naccari said the drivers have been able to collect unemployment, but losing medical benefits, especially in the middle of a pandemic, is difficult to accept.
“The medical is going to hurt a lot of people,” Naccari said. “We’re trying to fight it.”
An attorney representing Baumann & Sons said the company’s hands are tied.
“As the union representative of the Baumann employees at the Yorktown operations is aware, the district has refused to make any payments to Baumann,” said Glenn J. Smith, a partner with Seyfarth Shaw.
“Bottom line,” Smith continued, “the district shut off the flow of funds and that forced the layoff as Baumann cannot pay money it does not have.”
The Yorktown Central School District confirmed that it was no longer paying Baumann. Yorktown pays Baumann about $6 million annually, but the actual dollar amount varies based on factors such as miles driven, buses operated and fuel costs.
“The Yorktown Central School District is deeply sensitive and empathetic to the wonderful employees of the Baumann Bus Company,” the district said in a statement. “Baumann Bus Company is an independent contractor of the district and is responsible for controlling its business affairs.”
The district said it cannot pay independent contractors that are not actually performing any work.
“The district is awaiting further guidance from the New York State Education Department regarding what pass-through monies might be available in support of transportation vendor contracts,” the district said. “At this time, the district has been advised not to provide payment to any contractor for services not actually rendered absent guidance from the State Education Department.”
Patrick Van den Bergh, a bus driver at Baumann & Sons, said he understands why the company laid off the employees, but cutting medical contributions was a step too far.
“I think it’s just not fair,” Van den Bergh said.
Van den Bergh said the employees will remember how they were treated when their services are needed again.
“By doing that, they’re upsetting the drivers. And where are they going to find drivers in September?” Van den Bergh said. “Baumann is 100 percent at fault. This is the way Baumann treats its drivers.”