School bus drivers authorize strike after their Employer refuses to provide healthcare or retirement security
September 27, 2017
School bus drivers at First Student gathered in the Local 174 Union Hall auditorium this past weekend to discuss and vote on the next step in their battle for healthcare and retirement security. After a nearly two-hour informational meeting, the workers voted by a resounding 96% margin in favor of authorizing a strike action against their Employer.
Negotiations over healthcare and pension have been going on for several months between First Student and the bus drivers, who have been members of Teamsters Local 174 since 2013. The group of approximately 450 school bus drivers ratified a contract last year that guaranteed their wages and language to protect their rights on the job; however, retirement and healthcare issues were not settled at that time. Instead, both sides agreed to reopen these issues in 2017.
Now that the time has come to reach agreements on healthcare and pension, however, it has become clear that First Student never intended to take these issues seriously. “They came to the table, ostensibly ready to bargain healthcare, but then they couldn’t tell us what those costs would be, nor could they tell us what kind of budget the School Board had given them,” said Local 174 Director of Negotiations Patty Warren. “How are we supposed to bargain over numbers when we don’t even know what those numbers are? It just demonstrates that this company never really intended to reach an agreement with us. We are filing Unfair Labor Practice charges for Bad Faith Bargaining and Surface Bargaining as they never intended to reach an Agreement on these very important issues.”
The situation was similarly frustrating when the subject turned to pensions. Even though First Student employees are trained CDL-holding drivers who transport our most precious cargo – our children – safely day after day, the Company has been unwilling to consider even a small contribution to a pension on behalf of its workers. Instead, workers are stuck with a 401(k) plan that requires high contributions just to stand a chance at a secure retirement and which most bus drivers cannot afford to contribute to at all – they cannot give up wages they need for life-critical things such as food and shelter.
“Nobody gets rich driving a school bus. This isn’t a job anyone goes into for the money,” said First Student employee and Bargaining Committee member Joyce Hiatt. “Most of us barely scrape together part time hours, with no work during the summer. We have not had healthcare for years, we have not had meaningful healthcare for longer than that, and we have never had a pension. But we do the job because we know how important it is. These children need us. Is it so much to ask to at least have access to affordable healthcare and a chance at retirement?”
“Most of us have to rely on public assistance to get healthcare,” said another First Student employee, who did not wish to be named. “The Seattle School Board should be embarrassed by the fact that the people who take their kids to school need welfare just to go to the doctor. I mean, if it’s taxpayer money either way, why not make it easier on everyone and just give us what we deserve for the hard work that we do?”
This sentiment was echoed by many at the meeting on Sunday, and the group’s energy level rose higher and higher as the meeting wore on. Eventually, they could wait no longer, and several in the assembled group shouted out motions to vote. Once the ballots were cast and counted, the outcome was clear: Teamsters Local 174 members at First Student are willing to fight for their healthcare and retirement. Ninety-six percent (96%) of them voted in favor of a strike.
Since then, negotiations with First Student have continued. “Both sides continue to hope that a deal can be reached,” said Teamsters Local 174 Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks. “However, Local 174 has shown over and over again that we do not back down from a fight, and these school bus drivers are full of that same passion and resolve.”
“We hope this overwhelming vote authorizing a strike will show First Student that we mean business. We expect them to come back to the bargaining table ready to get serious about reaching a deal with our members,” Hicks continued.
Founded in 1909, Teamsters Local 174 represents 7,200 working men and women in the Seattle area. “Like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TeamstersLocal174.