After Mediation Breaks Down, Pressure Mounts on First Student as Strike Could be Called at Any Moment

Letters from School Board and Seattle Mayor Make Clear that Labor Dispute with Teamsters Local 174 is First Student’s Responsibility to Solve

November 15, 2017

After a complete breakdown in mediated negotiations between Teamsters Local 174 and First Student, avoiding a strike by over 400 Seattle school bus drivers seems all but impossible. First Student presented a Last, Best, and Final offer that was not even close to being acceptable for Teamster members at First Student. At this point, the school bus drivers are not on strike, and they have been instructed to continue to work until they hear otherwise from Teamsters Local 174 leadership. That call could come at any moment.

In the face of this negotiations breakdown, First Student is facing increasingly heavy pressure to do the right thing and provide quality affordable healthcare and retirement benefits to its employees. Over the past week, two letters have been made public that show that First Student cannot expect any government assistance to help it escape from the problem it now finds itself in: a problem that the Company clearly knew was coming, and that they could have and should have taken steps to avoid.

In a letter dated November 7, 2017 from Seattle Public Schools (SPS) General Counsel Noel Treat, which Teamsters Local 174 obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, SPS places blame for the current labor dispute directly onto First Student. “The District rejects any attempt to shift the risk of a labor action from First Student onto the District,” the letter states. “The present situation was readily foreseeable and is a problem caused solely by First Student’s own decisions and actions.”

The letter goes on to make clear that SPS will not be providing First Student with additional funding to put towards paying for healthcare for its employees, as the District “has no legal obligation” to do so. “First Student has the duty to provide sufficient pay and benefits to retain a workforce. First Student has the duty to maintain labor peace and resolve the risk of any labor dispute. Finally, and most important to our present situation, First Student has the duty to provide uninterrupted bus service and to pay liquidated damages if it fails to do so,” Treat writes in the letter.

The harshly-worded letter from SPS was not the only letter sent to First Student on November 7. On that same date, First Student President Dennis Maple received a letter from City of Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess also urging the company to reach an agreement with the Teamsters and “prevent a strike that would disrupt the lives of thousands of Seattle students and parents.”

In this letter, Mayor Burgess points to the “real, dire impact” that the lack of affordable health insurance is having on First Student’s workforce. He says that he felt “compelled” to draft a letter after hearing about First Student employees’ plights – specifically, the story of a young woman with cancer who cannot afford treatment for her disease. The letter makes it clear that Mayor Burgess feels the right solution to this labor dispute would be for First Student to agree to provide healthcare, rather than for the Teamster bus drivers to continue to go without.

As the pressure on First Student continues to mount, the Company is finding itself woefully short on allies.

“At this point, no one is on First Student’s side, and the reason for that is quite simply that First Student is in the wrong here,” said Teamsters Local 174 Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks. “This company has demonstrated across the United States that their business strategy is to increase their profits by underpaying their workforce and denying them basic healthcare and retirement benefits. They are truly the Walmart of student transportation, and the Teamsters will not stand idly by and allow this business strategy to remain the norm.

“First Student’s parent company FirstGroup is a wealthy multinational with teams of lawyers negotiating their contracts with cities, school districts, and municipalities all over the world. These contracts should be based around a cost structure that includes proper compensation for their employees. That is what they do in the UK and in Europe – so why are they not doing it here in the United States?

“This business strategy of denying their US-based employees healthcare ends here. Our members are not going to die of treatable illnesses and bankrupt themselves for medical procedures in order to protect First Student’s profit margin. It is time for this company to put their pride aside and do the right thing for their employees,” Hicks concluded.

After yesterday’s breakdown in negotiations, a strike is likely to be called at any moment. For further updates, follow Teamsters Local 174 online at www.teamsters174.net or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TeamstersLocal174.

Founded in 1909, Teamsters Local 174 represents 7,200 working men and women in the Seattle area.