Contract settlement averts school bus driver strike at Portland Public Schools

First Student Vote
Pippa Pizor (shop steward), Anna Tompte (ATU Executive Board officer), ATU Vice President Jonathan Hunt and Alex Smith (liaison officer), pose for a picture following a strike vote.

At First Student, the school bus contracting division of UK multinational First Transit, drivers came close to striking over a company demand that new hires would pay 50 percent of health insurance premiums (more than current employees). Such a “two-tier” provision would have created a permanent division in the workforce.

Nearly 20 months after the expiration of their previous contract, members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 authorized a strike. The union trained strike leaders, collected food donations, and set a May 1 deadline for the company to accept the union’s final offer, after which the drivers could strike at any time. Late in the day May 1, First Student emailed a proposal without the concessionary two-tier demand.

The new agreement, which members ratified May 7 by a 168-to-5 vote, continues the previous contract’s “stairstep” schedule in which new employees pay 35 percent of health premium first year, and 25, 15, and 5 percent in subsequent years, until the fifth year, when the company pays the whole premium.

Wages for the unit currently start at $12.90 an hour and top out at $15.76 after five years. The new agreement expires Aug. 31, 2015 and provides for three annual raises of 2 percent each, retroactive to the Aug. 31, 2012, expiration of the previous contract.

Portland Public Schools’ in-house school bus drivers also ratified a new contract May 7, which rolls over terms of their previous agreement with the district. They will get wages of 1.5 percent in the new three-year deal, which expires June 30, 2017. Wages currently start at $13.94 and rise to $17.66 after five years.

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