No busing for students in Warwick due to union labor issue

West Bay

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Warwick school bus drivers say they showed up to work to bring kids to school Friday morning, but then were told not to pick them up.

In a phone call and email sent to parents Friday morning, the Warwick School District said the busing company, First Student, would be unable to provide transportation services to students due to a union labor issue.

At the time high school buses had already left, but there was no elementary or middle school busing, including small buses for special needs students, for the rest of the morning.

Additionally, there was no afternoon pickup for all students for the remainder of the day.

Bus drivers rallied outside the First Student bus yard as it was filled with empty buses that were put back in their parking spots.

Parents flooded Warwick school lots having to bring their children to school last minute with seemingly no idea who stopped the busses. A bus driver union rep, Steve Sousa, says the drivers who showed up to work that day were equally confused.

“The blame goes to First Student as far as I’m concerned, we are waiting to hear, we don’t know what’s going on. But they left a lot of students stranded,” he said.

First Student told 12 News in response, “We understand the frustration this caused students and parents, especially on such short notice. First Student supported the Warwick School Department’s decision to suspend transportation today. We were unfortunately not informed in advance that several employees planned to not report for work.”

Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi posted on Facebook that he was going to meet with the bus company. In an update, he said although he thinks he wasn’t given all the answers, there is no evidence of any intentional disruption of busing services.

Earlier this week, school bus drivers and monitors held an informational picket waving signs in the air demanding better wages and conditions from First Student.

At the time, drivers told 12 News they were unhappy about how contract negotiations were going, saying the company was not taking the drivers seriously when it came to meeting their demands.

On Monday, officials with the bus company told 12 News, “First Student is in active negotiations with the union representing the drivers in Warwick and those negotiations have been productive. In fact, First Student and the union are meeting with a federal mediator on Wednesday and Friday of this week. We look forward to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement in the near future.”

It’s unclear if that meeting took place.

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