PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence school bus drivers said Saturday that a strike is not off the table as they continue negotiations with First Student.

First Student, the private company that provides transportation services for a large part of the city’s school district, said it made its “last offer” on Friday regarding a new contract between them and Teamsters Local 251, the union that represents the drivers.

A meeting was held in East Providence on Saturday to discuss the offer made by First Student and an opposing offer from Local 251; both proposals were rejected.

“We reviewed the union’s proposal and the company’s proposal, and that vote was overwhelmingly rejected,” Teamsters Local 251 Secretary Treasurer Matthew Taibi said. “A rejection also authorizes strike action, if necessary.”

The district acknowledged the possibility of a strike in a letter to the school community.

Teamsters Local 251 is expected to present another proposal to the First Student in the coming days. The union said it plans to give the company until Wednesday to accept an offer.

“If it’s not acceptable to our members there would be a labor dispute – a strike on Wednesday,” Taibi added.

Following Saturday’s meeting, 12 News received the following statement from First Student spokesperson Frank McMahon:

“First Student is disappointed that Teamsters Local 251 did not accept and ratify our contract proposal today. We are confident that their members would support our lucrative offer. We are encouraged, however, that the members of the Teamsters Local 251 have decided not to strike, which would have had serious consequences and unfairly burdened Providence students and their families. 

“Our priority has always been to reach an agreement that provides drivers with fair compensation and benefits and guarantees safe and reliable transportation for Providence students. First Student has made a generous offer to drivers that includes immediate pay raises and a $35.30 hourly wage for all employees by June 30, 2026. These wage increases would make Providence First Student drivers the highest paid in the region.  

“Additionally, First Student has committed to doubling company contributions into the Teamsters Savings and Investment Plan and continuing to cover 90% of members’ health care costs.  

“Teamsters Local 251 celebrated the creation of the current Teamsters Savings and Investment Plan following a work stoppage in Providence in 2018, saying at the time it was “a new plan that addressed First Student’s concerns about unfunded liability,” only to change their minds just a few years later. Teamsters Local 251 union leadership is not concerned with achieving the best deal for drivers.  

“Union leadership is demanding First Student fund the struggling New England Teamsters and Trucking Industry Pension Fund, a multiemployer pension fund that is in ‘critical condition and declining’ condition according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury that includes beneficiaries who are not even First Student employees. First Student will never agree to join the failing Teamsters Pension Fund under any condition as it is not in the best interest of our drivers.  

“First Student remains committed to reaching an agreement that does not threaten the retirement security of our drivers and continues to provide the best possible services to students and families. We stand ready to return to the negotiating table at any time and look forward to hearing from Local 251. 

“We thank Providence Public Schools and the Rhode Island Department of Education for their patience and understanding during the negotiation process.”

Any impacts to school transportation for Providence students would likely not happen until mid-week.