Mat-Su school bus workers walk off job after Durham presents final offer
The rejected contract included wage increases, signing bonus, and fully paid weather cancelation days among other items
PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - Bus drivers, monitors, and attendants in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District announced Tuesday that they are officially on strike, protesting against what they say are unfair labor practices.
The union representing the workers, Alaska Teamsters Union - Local 959, announced that all students that ride the bus in the district — which has a student population of over 18,000 — were dropped off Tuesday morning at their respective schools before the bus workers walked off the job. Kelsey Taylor, a representative for the union, explained that decision was made for student safety.
“Our number one biggest concern was that the message wouldn’t make it out to a family and there would be a kid on the curb that wasn’t getting picked up,” Taylor said. “Everybody went out this morning and made sure that every single student was picked up and delivered to a safe environment with trusted staff and teachers.”
The union had been in talks with the company that employs the workers, Durham School Services, to come to a deal but had been unable to settle. The union said Tuesday that a “last, best, final offer” from Durham was made, but was rejected by the Teamsters, officially kicking off the strike with a near-unanimous decision.
“Student safety is the top priority for school bus workers and continual issues surrounding buses have not been addressed by Durham,” the union said in a release. “Hours of planning and consideration were spent before the decision of when to start the strike.”
A spokesperson for Durham’s parent company National Express released a written statement Tuesday afternoon outlining the terms the company has offered, which include:
- Wage increases of 8% to nearly 14%, retroactive to 8/1/22, and additional money in year’s two and three;
- $1,500 upon ratification to each employee;
- Insurance - Seven plans to choose among, Durham pays 75% toward employee coverage;
- Fully paid weather cancelation days;
- Daily guarantees increased from 4 hours to 6 hours for drivers and attendants/monitors, and 7 hours to 8 hours for standby drivers; and
- FMLA qualifying hours reduced to 700 (from 1,250 hours), making it easier to access this benefit.
“Yesterday, Durham gave the Union its final offer and we were waiting for the results of the employees’ vote and have now learned that no meeting was held for an employee vote,” the statement read. “We are prepared to meet and bargain with the Union to bring an end to this disruption.”
District Chief Communications Officer Jillian Morrissey said that the district received “no advanced notice” that the union planned to strike.
“Due to the disruption in bus service, parents/guardians and emergency contacts will be responsible for transporting their children to and from school, beginning this afternoon,” Morrissey wrote in an email to parents. “For school related activities, including travel outside the District, families will be responsible for arranging transportation.”
The schools located in the northern Matanuska and Susitna Valleys — located near Talkeetna and Glacier View — are not impacted by the strike, as they do not receive transportation services from Durham.
“We’re sorry to inform you of this inconvenience, and hope that the situation between Durham School Services and the Teamsters Union can be resolved as soon as possible,” Morrissey wrote.
The union voted to authorize the strike on Jan. 10 in the midst of a contract dispute. Workers’ previous contracts with First Student expired when Durham took over pupil transportation services in the Valley.
“Although this will inconvenience families, Teamsters Local 959 membership asks that the community stand with school bus workers in solidarity,” the union release said.
Bus service was not provided after school on Tuesday, and the district plans to keep school open as usual tomorrow.
According to the school district’s website, no bus service will be offered on Wednesday, Feb. 1 for most schools. Schools that are served by a different contractor will continue bus service as usual. The schools unaffected by the Durham strike are Glacier View School, Su-Valley Junior/Senior High, Talkeetna Elementary, Trapper Creek Elementary, and Willow Elementary.
Students that are unable to attend due to lack of bus service will be able to make up the lost time. Parents of students who have to miss class should contact their school directly for instructions.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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