The district strongly encouraged First Student to resolve its issues with its 400 bus drivers or the district will seek damages “to the maximum extent of the law.”
Seattle Public Schools said Tuesday that it intends to seek damages of $1.2 million per day from its school-bus contractor if the contractor’s drivers go on strike and students have no way to get to school.
In a letter to First Student, the district strongly encouraged the company to resolve its issues with its 400 bus drivers, who are represented by Teamsters Local 174. If it doesn’t, the district will seek damages “to the maximum extent of the law,” wrote Pegi McEvoy, assistant superintendent for operations.
First Student is in the first year of a three-year contract with Seattle Public Schools. The Teamsters have asked for more affordable health benefits and a stronger retirement plan for the drivers, but the two sides haven’t yet come to an agreement. In late September, the drivers voted to strike if their negotiations with First Student broke down. The talks started in June.
In Seattle Public Schools’ letter, McEvoy wrote that the district’s contract requires First Student to provide “continuous and uninterrupted bus service.”
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“Should daily bus service be disrupted, the lives and education of many students will be significantly and adversely impacted,” she wrote. “In addition to this disruption, Seattle Public Schools could also face substantial costs to address your failure to provide the contractually obligated service.”
If school-bus service is interrupted, the district calculates that its contract with First Student allows for damages of $1.2 million per day, which McEvoy said the district will “vigorously seek” if there is a strike.
The union has said First Student promised to negotiate driver benefits during labor discussions last year. At the time, First Student increased its entry-level wage for bus drivers to $18 per hour but didn’t extend health-care benefits to any driver who works less than 30 hours per week.
Last year, Seattle School Board members emphasized the importance of retaining drivers when they approved the First Student contract, worth at least $27 million a year. They requested data to see how much it would cost for the district to offer health-care benefits to drivers who work 20-29 hours per week. The district decided against providing those benefits, which would have cost $1.7 million annually.
The next meeting between the Teamsters and First Student is Thursday, Teamsters communications director Jamie Fleming said.
First Student did not respond to requests for comment.