No Quick End Apparent to Sudden Strike by Bus Drivers Serving Pasadena Unified

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By EDDIE RIVERA, Community Editor with DAVID CROSS, Newsdesk Editor | Photography and Video by BRANDON VILLALOVOS

4:53 am | January 19, 2018

As thousands of parents scrambled to find rides to school for their children on the first day of a sudden strike by First Student, Inc. bus drivers, the Pasadena Unified School District announced Thursday that all regular student school bus routes are cancelled and that only seven routes serving special needs students will be in operation on Friday morning.

“Parents and Students must make arrangements to get to school until the First Student bus driver’s strike is settled,” the statement added.

Striking drivers have been picketing the bus facility near John Muir High School again today since 5 a.m. and plan to continue on the picket line until 5 p.m., one driver said.

Pasadena Unified contracts the busing services through Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student, which hires and manages the drivers and negotiates with the union, a school spokesperson indicated.

Hilda Ramirez Horvath, Manager of Communications for the Pasadena Unified School District, said in an email statement “The Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) contracts with First Student, Inc. to provide daily transportation services for 1,200 PUSD students. The strike by First Student drivers has severely impacted transportation services for PUSD students, including planned school field trips.”

Not only were the District as well as thousands of parents and students caught off guide by the strike, but so were First Student officials and even some of the drivers themselves.

“It was a little abrupt this morning,” said Jay Brock, Public Relations Representative with First Student, on Thursday. “We have drivers showing up for work and it appears as though they weren’t aware that any strike was taking place.”

“Unfortunately at this particular time we would encourage parents to look for some alternative transportation,” Brock said.

Both First Student and Pasadena Unified officials said Thursday it is unknown when full bus service will be restored.

Rick Middleton, Secretary Treasurer of Local 572, the Teamsters Union representing the drivers, said he was also unable to put any kind of timeline on the strike.

“A large part of that depends on what action the company takes moving forward. Our members are committed to securing the good contract for them and their family so they can continue to perform a service for Pasadena Unified,” Middleton said.

Middleton said that “drivers working out of the [Pasadena] facility are among some of the lowest paid in the industry in Union jobs.” Given the wages, he said, “the vast majority of our members can’t afford to buy health insurance benefits.”

While the union members have voted against First Student’s last two “best and final offers,” Middleton said, “We’re hopeful that the company reaches out for us and asks us to come back to the bargaining table and address the issues that were left unresolved”

The abrupt strike unleashed repercussions on special needs students at many area nonprofits, dependent upon bus transportation service.

At Pasadena’s Ability First, the fallout was immediate and significant, said Rebecca Haussling, Ability First Director of Communications.

“The bus strike is having a significant impact on our participants,” said Rebecca Haussling, Ability First director of communications. “The participants are having to pick up their children from school, and they will need to take them straight home. Our parents will need to take off work to pick them up and they won’t be able to get back to work, because no one is watching them at home. We’ve also had to call staff to let them know that they don’t have to come into work today because we have less participants.”

According to Haussling, many of the center’s employees are young students themselves.

“Many of our staff work hourly, and many of them are students and live paycheck to paycheck, and they are losing hours, so therefore they lose money,” she said.

Haussling added that “the center will continue to monitor the strike, and then make decisions based on how and what (the strike) escalates. I think for right now, we’re kind of in a holding pattern.”

Late Thursday, Pasadena Unified announced that additional special needs bus service has been made arranged through a different company—Secure Transport, Inc—and will be available beginning January 22.

The frustration on both sides of the issue naturally lit up social media on Thursday, as comments quickly sprouted on the Pasadena Now Facebook page.

Said Dianeiry Lopez, “Good for them i hope they get what they deserve!,” while Lily Flores wrote, “Sucks for all the kids that missed school today.”

Wrote Rebecca Contreras, “How dare they hold those CHILDREN’S educations hostage?!?!?!?!?! Some Families Have No Other Way Of Getting Their Children To SCHOOL!!! Find another way that doesn’t put children’s education at risk!!!”

Pasadena Unified’s Ramirez also said that the District urges “First Student, Inc. to resolve this matter quickly and immediately resume transportation services for PUSD students. As customers of First Student, Inc., our students are being affected.”