PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence school bus drivers have reached an agreement on a new contract with First Student, avoiding a strike that would’ve left hundreds of students without a ride to school Wednesday morning.
First Student, the private company that provides transportation services for a large part of the district, said it made a “generous offer” on Monday for a new contract with Teamsters Local 251, which represents the bus drivers.
This comes after the union rejected an offer from First Student last Friday. Monday’s offer was ultimately rejected too, and the union sent back some changes, which the bus company agreed to in the end.
The new contract includes a pay increase of $37 per hour by June 2026, according to First Student spokesperson Frank McMahon.
McMahon said the contract also doubles the 100% company-funded contribution into the Teamsters Savings and Investment Plan and increases company coverage of health care costs to 92.5%.
The new contract is retroactive to July 1, 2022.
Matt Taibi, a spokesperson for Teamsters Local 251, said First Student agreed to enter a four-year contract, rather than a five-year contract as previously offered.
“This contract makes school bus drivers in Providence, I would say, the highest paid in the region by the end of the contract,” Taibi said.
If the union rejected First Student’s offer and voted to strike, it would’ve left the capital city without adequate transportation for many students.
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In a letter sent out Tuesday, the district warned families of the potential strike, adding that the city has “no adequate substitute transportation” for students.
“This means we will be relying on families to arrange for their own transportation for their children,” the letter stated. “We understand that this represents a hardship for many of you, and we wish another viable solution existed.”
Similar letters were sent to parents of students in other districts including Bristol-Warren, Portsmouth, and Scituate.
“We have received word that a picket line could potentially extend to other First Student bus depots, including our depot in Warren,” Bristol-Warren Superintendent Ana Riley wrote. “If that were to happen, our busing services would be disrupted.”
Thankfully, the families who rely on First Student no longer have to worry about how their child will be getting to and from school Wednesday.
School bus drivers told 12 News Tuesday night they’re not only overjoyed by the raises outlined in the new contract, they’re also relieved for their students.
“We had the kids in mind, first of all,” bus driver Chuck Hanrahan said. “That was the main thing … to get a fair contract and supply our kids.”