Union Bus Drivers Turn to Pasadena School Board for Support for Week-Old Strike

Drivers ask board to reach out to First Student, Inc.; both sides in strike claim the other will not come to the table

Published : Friday, January 26, 2018 | 5:59 AM

Union Bus Drivers Turn to Pasadena School Board Board

As the Teamster bus drivers of First Student, Inc. completed the first full week of their strike, affecting thousands of Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) students, both union and management appear no closer to settling the strike, each accusing the other of not returning to the bargaining table.

Pasadena Unified contracts Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student for its bus services, and therefore cannot negotiate on behalf of either side.

The School Board was only able to offer a statement in response to questions regarding the strike’s possible settlement, saying, “Pasadena Unified is a customer of First Student, and the issue is between First Student and its bus drivers. We urge them to resolve this matter quickly. Our students and their families are being affected.

“Since the strike began,” the statement continued, “16 bus routes have resumed service with First Student drivers. The District is working with First Student and charter bus companies to provide alternate transportation for more students. We hope to increase the number of routes served in the next few days and will keep families updated. In the meantime, we ask that parents continue to make alternate plans to get their children to and from school until the strike is settled.

“Tardies and absences will be excused for students who normally ride the bus to school,” the statement concluded.

More than 50 drivers, meanwhile, filled the hallways and packed chambers of the Pasadena School Board’s board Thursday evening, asking the board to intervene and ask First Student to return to the bargaining table.

Adriana Salazar Avila, of Teamster Local Union 572 claimed “there have been a lot of false and misleading statements put out by First Student, namely that we have refused to return to the bargaining table, and that is simply not true; we are waiting for them to contact. It’s not like we wouldn’t drop everything and negotiate 24/7, whatever it takes.”

According to Avila, drivers have 11 outstanding issues.

“They are not all monetary,” she said. “They are here for things that most people would consider a basic right, like being treated with dignity and respect. They want safe buses.”

According to Avila, drivers have found rats on the buses, and have been told by First Student to remove them themselves “without the proper sanitary equipment and supplies.”

Avila also said the drivers want more than their allotted three sick days, and said that, according to First Student, should drivers take more than three sick days, they can not take their earned vacation days.

“If you ask the company,” said Avila, “They will say that (the drivers) do get vacation. They get eight weeks off during the summer. All unpaid.”

“We are asking the school board for their understanding and support while we go through this strike,” added Avila.

Liz Sanchez, Southwest region senior vice president for First Student however, countered during a phone interview with Pasadena Now, “We’re open to meeting whenever the union is ready to meet. We’ve been in constant communication with them and we’re ready to talk to them when they are.”

Sanchez also said that the union’s bargaining committee has approved its last two contract offers.

First Student also claimed that Local 572 was negotiating through “unauthorized representatives.” They did not elaborate.

According to Sanchez, First Student is offering an increased pay scale with wages starting $15 an hour, which is an 11% increase from the current wages, and that offer goes to a top wage of $22.40 depending on the years of service.

There is a “significant wage increase of almost 16% for van drivers with 10+ years of experience as well,” added Sanchez, saying, “This is all in addition to the benefits they currently receive, which includes access to comprehensive health care coverage, with First Students paying 60% of the health insurance premium. They get sick time and all the benefits that they’ve already been enjoying.”

However, a number of the bus drivers who spoke before the council alleged that salaries are so low that the first two weeks of monthly salary are used to pay the health insurance premiums.

While the strike has continued, nearly a dozen First Student drivers have crossed the picket line and continued to drive. At least two members at the meeting told Pasadena Now that First Student is offering daily bonuses and an increased pay rate to striking workers who return to work. Those members said that First Student is texting drivers individually with the bonus offers.

In an “Operations Update” memo sent to striking workers and provided by a union member who asked not to be identified, First Student was offering drivers “guaranteed eight hours of work and a $25 per diem.”

‘We need as many of you as possible to join us!,” said the alleged memo, reportedly signed by Reggie Young, First Student location manager.

First Student is also holding an ongoing series of job fairs seeking drivers, including one Friday in Sierra Madre.

Jay Brock, who handles media relations for First Student said, Thursday, “We continue to be thankful for the number of employees that have chosen to provide service to the students and the community. They increase everyday so we’re appreciative of them helping us out with that.”

Asked if First Student would hire non-union workers, should the need arise, Brock said, “Certainly we can eventually, if it comes to that. Absolutely.”

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