Will buses be running in Warwick? That has been the question asked by many across the City the last few weeks as First Student the company contracted by the Warwick School Department to bus 6,300 …
Will buses be running in Warwick? That has been the question asked by many across the City the last few weeks as First Student the company contracted by the Warwick School Department to bus 6,300 students each day, and Local 618 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the union that represents drivers, continue to negotiate after the contract expired at the end of June. While there have been rumors of a possible strike or work stoppage for multiple weeks, the national ATU Union last week gave the local the authority to strike, according to a text that the Warwick Beacon obtained after it was posted to the Local ATU 618’s Facebook page last week.
“We wanted to reach out to everyone to
let you know that the International President John Costa has approved a strike for Monday Nov. 1. Rest assured regardless of how this week goes we will not have to take another strike vote. President DeCristofaro will sign an extension to protect the members through next week, and if we can’t come to an agreement the strike will begin on Monday, Nov. 1,” the text stated.
“First Student has expressed their willingness to discuss the issues at hand. Please continue to report to work and as soon as we have more information we will forward to you.”
The message came after drivers rejected a tentative agreement reached between First Student and Union leadership for the second week in a row.
“First Student is disappointed that ATU Local 618 has again voted down the generous contract offer we put forward after 17 good faith negotiating sessions with union leadership since April. The contract offered to the union contained a package of wage increases and benefit improvements that we believe is generous, competitive, and values the hard work of our dedicated Warwick school bus drivers,” said Frank McMahon, a spokesperson for First Student said in a statement last week.
“When we left the negotiations on Wednesday we had reached a tentative agreement that received the endorsement of both the union bargaining committee and ATU leadership,” McMahon added. “We understand that even one day without yellow bus transportation is a hardship for the families, students and schools that depend on us. It is unfortunate that Local 618 continues to be willing to hold the transportation of thousands of Warwick students hostage as a negotiating tactic.”
Andrew Arsenault, a member of the executive board and negotiation committee for the union, told the Beacon last week that drivers want to be guaranteed more hours in their new contract.
He explained that before the pandemic school districts conducted in person classes about 180 days a year. If a school day was 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 drivers will be paid 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 which states “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 goes until June 30 2024. It means that the union wouldn’t be entitled to the state mandated guarantee until at least then.
“We just want it now,” Arsenault said.
Arsenault also said that he would like to see an increase in the amount of guaranteed hours 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 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.
Aresenault, who has children in the school district, said drivers 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.
On Saturday, Nick De- Cristofaro, the President for Local 618, echoed a similar sentiment.
“On July 9, House bill 6118A was enacted which gives the employees 180 days of work, that is what we’re asking for,” DeCristofaro said.
DeCristofaro said that they are doing everything they can to avoid a strike from happening. “We do not want to strike,” he said.
McMahon said last week that First Student is also willing to continue to negotiate in order to avoid a strike.
“We stand ready and willing to return to the negotiating table anytime, anywhere to avoid further disruption to Warwick Public Schools student bus service,” he said.
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