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Union Says Seattle School Bus Driver Strike A 'Serious Possibility'

The union that represents school bus drivers in Seattle says there’s a “serious possibility”  that the drivers could go out on strike.

Six months have passed since the drivers voted to unionize, and they’re still working without a contract, having failed to negotiate one with First Student, a company headquartered in Cincinnati.

"We’ve been in negotiations since July. We currently do not have a contract. We have taken a strike authorization vote and there is a very serious possibility that we will have a strike," said Patty Warren of Teamsters Local 174, which represents more than 450 bus drivers in Seattle.

The drivers voted to unionize last summer, and took a strike authorization vote in November. What the union and First Student are still negotiating are wage, health and retirement benefit issues, Warren said.

Bus drivers earn between $13 and $21 per hour. Warren said the drivers are currently working without medical coverage because the plan they had been on was ruled ineligible for coverage in the state.

First Student didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.

A total of 22,000 children in Seattle rely on school bus drivers for transportation. (An additional 7,000 students are provided with Metro bus passes by Seattle Public Schools.)

The district pays First Student $27 million per year for its transportation service, which includes the yellow school buses as well as the drivers.

Since the drivers aren't employed by the district, the district is not involved in labor negotiations. 

But First Student, according to district spokesperson Teresa Wippel, has been keeping the district informed about the negotiations. Wippel said the district hasn't been alerted to any "red flags" during the negotiations.

Per its contract with the school district, First Student must provide replacement drivers in the event of a strike, Wippel said. 

First Student and the Teamsters head back to the bargaining table for three days starting Wednesday.