Deal, no deal for bus drivers?

Posted 10/21/21

By ALEX MALM The immediate future of 6,300 students being bused to Warwick schools remained unclear yesterday as First Student and Local 618 of the Amalgamated Transit Union continue to negotiate. One thing is certain, however. If the buses aren't

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Deal, no deal for bus drivers?


The immediate future of 6,300 students being bused to Warwick schools remained unclear yesterday as First Student and Local 618 of the Amalgamated Transit Union continue to negotiate.

One thing is certain, however. If the buses aren’t rolling, in-person school classes won’t close at this time.

Last Thursday the union and First Student, signed an extension of the contract through Oct. 22.

Following a union meeting last Friday Steve Sousa, the Secretary Treasurer said the rank and file rejected a tentative agreement and took a vote to strike, which needs to be approved by the national international union. It is uncertain if the international union has approved of it at the time of publication. 

When asked Tuesday if they have any plans in the works in case of a strike, Superintendent  Lynn Dambruch said “the plan would be for the parents to transport their children to school. Hopefully if a parent doesn’t have transportation they could ride with other families.”

Asked if they would move to distance learning in that scenario Assistant Superintendent William McCaffrey said “not at this time.”

Dambruch said that students would still have access to their assignments on Google Classroom. 

Andrew Arsenault, a member of the executive board and negotiation committee for the union, told the Beacon Monday afternoon drivers want to be guaranteed more hours in their new contract. 

He explained that before the pandemic drivers could count on 180 days of school a year in person. If a school day is canceled due to inclement weather or another reason it would almost always be made up.

But now with distance learning there is uncertainty from year to year how many days bus drivers will work and also if they may lose any days when the School District opts to go with distance learning on a particular day for a myriad of reasons. He noted that in Warwick they only have 170 days physically in school this year because of distance learning days. 

“These are things that never came up before,” Arsenault said. 

In June the General Assembly passed legislation that “no school committee shall negotiate, extend, or renew any school transportation service contract unless the contract provides for payments to school bus drivers, attendants, monitors and aids for one hundred and eighty (180) days or the length of the contracted-for school year, whichever is longer.”

The Warwick School Department signed a three-year extension with First Student before the law was passed which runs through June 30 2024

“We just want it now,” Arsenault said. 

Arsenault also said that he would like to see an increase in the amount of guaranteed hours drivers get per shift. Currently they get a total of a minimum of two hours of pay per shift for a total of four hours a day if they report for both their morning and afternoon shifts.

“I would love to see a three hour AM guarantee, and  a three hour PM guarantee,” Arsenault said. 

He noted that it would mean that if drivers go to work for each of their shifts they would be paid for at least 30 hours a week.  Arsenault said that while they were paid a minimum of 20 hours a week before if they drove for each of their shifts the reality was that drivers had many more hours due to things like field trips, which no longer is always the case due to the pandemic. 

“An hourly guarantee is great but when you don’t have the hours to work what good is it,” Arsenault said.

Arsenault, who said that he has children in the school district, said that they don’t want to get to the point of not working. 

“We love our job and to not do our job is not easy for us, to make the decision to finally stand up for yourself that's not an easy thing to do. We want to be out there doing our job,” he said. 

Following the vote taken by union membership last week to reject the deal Frank McMahon, a spokesperson for First Student  issued a statement. 

"First Student has conducted 14 negotiating sessions with the leadership of ATU Local 618 since April 2021. We were encouraged when we reached a tentative agreement late this afternoon. 

We are disappointed to learn that the union has chosen to reject the very generous wage and benefits package that we presented to them today. That package included:

l  Average wage increases of 30 percent over the three-year term of the contact.

  • l   Top pay reaching $27.25 per hour for   experienced drivers.
  • l    Increased guaranteed hours paid. 
  • l   A 30-minute guarantee for extra-work.
  • l   A 29 percent increased 401K contributions. 
  • l    A 33 percent  increase in life insurance benefits.
  • l   Paid holiday gift cards and holiday party contributions.
  • l  Reduced pay tiers from four to three.
  • l  Reaching longevity in seven year versus the current 10 year structure. 

We believe the offer contained in the tentative agreement is a very competitive compensation and benefits package for our dedicated Warwick school bus drivers. Fortunately, the union has agreed to continue negotiations through October 22nd, so there will be no disruption to student bus service next week. First Student remains committed to remaining at the negotiating table and to reaching a fair and equitable new contract agreement for our valued Warwick school bus drivers.”


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