The possibility of a strike among local First Student Inc. bus drivers had parents, students and teachers of the Blue Valley, Olathe, Park Hill, Grandview and Center school districts worried last week. Districts took precautions to brace for a strike, but just as quickly as it had risen, the possibility subsided.
The idea of a strike arose two weeks ago, when the bus drivers of Blue Valley, Park Hill and Center rejected the contract that was up for renewal from the First Student bus company.
Joe Sutton, the chief bus agent for Teamsters Local 838 (the union that represents the bus drivers, monitors and mechanics), told the Kansas City Star that employees want to see a quicker move toward the top pay of $13.65 per hour in the new contract.
The Shawnee Mission School District was not affected by this ordeal because its contract with the bus drivers was not up for renewal.
Sophomore Rhys Raglow is a daily bus rider who did not want to see First Student bus drivers strike.
“Riding the bus is a reliable source of transportation,” Raglow said. “They’re always on time.”
Event though East was not affected, fear of a strike lingered in the minds of many last week as contract negotiations between First Student and its drivers hit a roadblock. In preparation for the possible strike, First Student had been working with the affected districts to bring in substitute bus drivers. The districts made plans to alter bell schedules to allow parents more time, opening school earlier and closing later. Olathe sent letters to thousands of parents of students who ride buses, warning that they must find an alternative transportation to school.
Then, going against the examples of the three other districts, Olathe approved the contract, becoming the first to do so. After the 42-5 vote of consent, people took on a more optimistic attitude.
“Our students will have the same access to safe transportation as before,” Olathe Superintendent Pat All told the KC star. “We value our drivers, many of whom are our parents and community members.”
Maureen Richmond, the director of media relations for First Student, was also content with Olathe bus drivers’ decision to approve the initial contract proposal.
“We believe the compensation and benefits package we have offered to our employees is of fair market value,” Richmond said. “The rate of pay offered is competitive with those in similar positions throughout the area, and we believe this is a fair proposal.”
Sutton told the Kansas City Star the union and First Student had been negotiating all afternoon. Teamsters Local 838 gave a little, and First Student gave a little.
“That’s why it passed,” Sutton told them.
Blue Valley and Grandview soon followed in Olathe’s footsteps by approving the secondary contract proposals, with Center and Park Hill close behind. This ended the one year struggle to find an arrangement that both parties agreed upon.
The contract approvals also confirmed the predictions of Richmond, who, after Blue Valley approved the contract, was hopeful that there would not be interruption in service.
“There has been no strike instituted, and we are pleased,“ Richmond said. “We have tremendous respect for our employees and the jobs they do every day.”