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With A Potential School Bus Strike Looming, Union Pushes Seattle School Board To Help End Dispute

Mel Peffs

The threat of a strike by school bus drivers in Seattle has many parents anxious. About 12,000 students in the district regularly use school bus service. Now, the union that represents the drivers is calling on the Seattle school board to put pressure on their vendor to resolve the labor dispute.

The school bus drivers, who number about 400, belong to Teamsters Local 174. Their employer is called First Student, which is owned by a British bus and rail company and has contracts across the U.S. for school bus service.

The drivers ratified a contract last year over wages and other items, but they agreed to hold off on bargaining over health insurance and retirement benefits until this year. They’ve been meeting since June, but the drivers said talks have gone nowhere and last month they voted to authorize a strike.

They said the reason is that First Student hasn’t negotiated fairly or presented a decent health insurance plan.  Abraham Taylor, a senior business agent with Teamsters 174, told the Seattle School Board that they have power because they hold the contract and that they should intervene to help the two sides reach an agreement.

“You can look at these drivers and say, `I’m not your employer, I can’t do anything about this,’ but that’s an abdication of responsibility that we will not accept,” Taylor said. “You can do something about this and you need to.”

Taylor said none of the drivers wants to strike because of the turmoil it would cause the kids and their families. The union has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, including one yesterday alleging the company has intimidated workers and threatened to retaliate against them.

Deputy Superintendent Stephen Nielsen said officials have communicated to First Student that the district cares deeply about the drivers and their working conditions.

Jen Biddinger, a spokeswoman for First Student, declined to comment on the specifics of negotiations. She said the company is in ongoing talks with the union to try to resolve the issue and that additional sessions are scheduled.

“We have not been advised of an imminent strike date, and we continue to provide frequent updates to the school district,” she said. “We remain committed to providing the best possible transportation service to the families we serve.”

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.