On Monday Vashon’s school bus drivers reached a preliminary contract agreement with their employer, First Student, effectively ending a months-long labor dispute when the company offered what a union representative called fair wages for the Vashon drivers. The group is expected to ratify the contract next week.
The move came just days after the drivers, part of the Teamsters Local Union No. 763, voted to authorize a future strike if First Student refused to negotiate higher wages, said Jason Powell, the union’s business agent.
“I think the drivers’ solidarity, combined with some continued pressure, I believe, from the community, encouraged the company to make the right decision at the bargaining table,” Powell said.
Powell, along with three Vashon drivers involved in the negotiations, have recommended the proposed settlement to the union, Powell said, and the 14 drivers are expected to ratify the contract at a meeting next Wednesday.
The bus drivers’ unhappiness with First Student, the country’s largest provider of bus service and the company that holds the Vashon School District’s contract, came to light last month when drivers in downtown Vashon handed out fliers headed with the title “Labor dispute could impact student transportation.”
The drivers claimed their wages were not equal to those of First Student drivers in other parts of the state. They also claimed there were wage inequities among the Vashon drivers themselves and that First Student had stalled negotiations and withheld public information concerning wages in other areas.
Several Vashon residents contact First Student after the pamphleteering, calling a First Student representative listed on the fliers, Powell said.
“Some people were calling the company within minutes of getting the flier,” he said.
Last Thursday’s vote to strike was purely procedural, Powell said, and did not mean a strike was imminent. He also said the strike gave the drivers an advantage in negotiations.
Ultimately, First Student agreed to a contract proposal that included higher wages for the drivers and did away with a grand-fathered pay scale many felt was unfair, Powell said.
“The wage proposal that the company agreed to addressed, for the most part, our inequity issue,” Powell said.
Now that the union has neared an agreement with First Student, Powell said he hopes that when the time comes, the Vashon Island School District will renew the company’s contract, which expires at the end of this school year.