The strike by 400 bus drivers means that, for the second time this school year, 12,000 Seattle students will need to find other ways to get to and from school without their usual yellow-bus service.
The union representing Seattle school-bus drivers says the strike that started Thursday could continue for days if the union doesn’t receive a better offer from contractor First Student.
The strike by 400 bus drivers means that, for the second time this school year, 12,000 Seattle students will need to find other ways to get to and from school without their usual yellow-bus service. Members of Teamsters Local 174, which represents Seattle Public Schools bus drivers, went on a one-day strike in November after negotiations stalled between the union and First Student.
Thursday morning, drivers began their strike, picketing at bus lots in the city. But not all employees were in agreement as some drivers crossed picket lines and continued on their morning routes.
First Student and the Teamsters appear far from an agreement, with their disputes extending not only to health care and other benefits but to attendance at a Teamsters meeting, where members rejected First Student’s proposal by 85 percent. First Student says only a “small minority” — about 75 people — were at the meeting, while the union says there were about 150 attending.
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Last month, the union threatened to go on a second, prolonged strike if they didn’t receive another proposal from First Student. The drivers want more affordable health benefits and a stronger retirement plan, which they say the company promised last year.
Teamsters spokeswoman Jamie Fleming said First Student presented another proposal Monday, but it was similar to an earlier proposal that members rejected. That proposal wasn’t recommended by union leaders or its bargaining committee, but the union said it wanted members to vote because of the “extremely high stakes involved in a decision to strike.”
“We were just really frustrated that they came back with such a poor quality proposal, and now here we are,” Fleming said.
First Student proposed a “fair and equitable” plan, said Kim Mingo, First Student’s senior director of labor negotiations. The company’s proposal included health benefits for full-time drivers and their families, and part-time employees would have received health-care coverage, with First Student paying 80 percent of annual premiums. Only drivers who work 30 hours a week or more are eligible now for health-care benefits.
But the coverage was offered at an “outrageous cost,” Fleming said, and part-time employees worried about costs for their spouses and families.
Mingo said what the union is asking for is outside the parameters of First Student’s bid with the Seattle School District. First Student is in the first year of a three-year contract with the district that’s worth at least $27 million a year.
First Student was the only company that responded when the district sent out a request for bus-service proposals last year. The School District sent a letter in October threatening to seek damages of $1.2 million per day from First Student if a strike occurred, but the district is waiting until the two sides come to a resolution, district spokeswoman Kim Schmanke said.
The company and the union haven’t scheduled another meeting.
If the strike lasts through next week, Seattle teachers union members plan to do a walkout Wednesday at their schools and picket in different areas of the city, union President Phyllis Campano said. The members won’t leave until after the school day has ended, so students won’t be affected.
“Bus drivers are the first ones that kids see in the morning, and they have relationships with the students,” Campano said. “We want them healthy and happy because (bus drivers) really affect students before they come into the classroom. We want them taken care of.”
Students who miss school because of the strike, under state law, will receive an unexcused absence, the School District said. On the day of the November strike, about 600 more students than average missed school, according to the district.