New contract avoids bus driver strike


Parents of the 18,000 New Haven students who take the bus to and from school can breathe a sigh of relief — the school district’s bus company has reached a “tentative deal” on new contracts with the unionized bus drivers, defusing a situation that many feared would devolve into an extended strike.

The bus company, First Student Inc., and the bus drivers’ union, Local 2001, finally came to a deal at around 2:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon, First Student spokeswoman Maureen Richmond said. The agreement comes after tensions flared on Thursday when over 150 Local 2001 bus drivers briefly struck at First Student’s bus yard in Middleton, Conn., over the then-ongoing contract renegotiations.

The brief rally ended before Thursday afternoon bus routes because representatives from the two parties agreed to renew negotiations later that evening, Local 2001 and First Student spokespeople said, so there was ultimately no interruption in bus service. Nonetheless, yesterday’s deal assuages local concern that the situation could regress into a long-term strike — disrupting bus service and blocking student access to schools.

“I applaud both sides for putting children first and working together to reach a deal that protects kids and is fair to both bus drivers and First Student,” said Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo in a Sept. 18 press release. “Our top priority is always the safety and well-being of every student of New Haven Public Schools.”

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. offered similarly encouraging remarks to contract stakeholders as well as teachers, principals, and other school staff who watched the situation unfold. He added that “the agreement respects the interests of all involved and allows [New Haven] kids to continue to have a productive school year.”

Yesterday’s deal marks the culmination of contract renegotiations that have been ongoing since the previous First Student contract with Local 2001 expired on June 30, Richmond said. Chief among the union concerns with the new contract were wages, health insurance, and student behavior on buses, spokespeople for both negotiating parties said. While neither Richmond nor Local 2001 communications director Ben Phillips would elaborate on the specifics of the agreement, which has yet to be finalized, Richmond said the two groups are crafting a three-year contract.

Phillips expressed union support for the deal, noting that “both sides negotiated in good faith” and that “the bargaining team representing the bus drivers offered a strong and near-unanimous recommendation for the agreement’s ratification.” First Student spokesman Timothy Stokes added that the two parties “appreciated [parents’ and school officials’] patience and support as we worked to reach an agreement.”

The tentative deal now requires union ratification to be finalized and implemented. Phillips said a ratification vote for the agreement will likely be held next week.

The union’s 325 drivers collectively operate approximately 300 bus routes.

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