Union, First Student strike deal on new contract for Warwick bus drivers

West Bay

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Parents in Warwick no longer have to worry about whether their child will have rides to and from school — at least for the next three years.

ATU Local 618, which represents Warwick’s bus drivers, and First Student came to an agreement Friday on a new contract, which will run through 2024.

The contract, according to First Student, includes “generous pay raises … increased 401(k) contributions, and other benefit improvements for our valued, hardworking Warwick school bus drivers.”

“We look forward to continuing our partnership with Warwick Public Schools to provide safe, reliable student bus transportation,” First Student spokesperson Frank McMahon said in a statement.

The agreement comes one week after union members voted to go on strike if a deal could not be reached. ATU Local 618 Secretary Treasurer Steve Sousa said it typically takes the union two weeks to prepare for a strike, which gave First Student time to return to the bargaining table before transportation services were disrupted.

The specifics of the contract have not yet been released, however, Sousa said two of the union’s major concerns – increased wages and guaranteed pay during weather-related cancelations and distance-learning days, were granted by the bus company.

“Hourly wages are great, but when you’re not guaranteed the hours to work, that’s when you have a problem,” Andrew Arsenault, a bus driver for Warwick Public Schools said.

Getting to this point wasn’t easy, however.

Earlier this month, bus drivers in Warwick were ordered not to complete their morning and afternoon routes due to what was described as a “union labor issue.”

Then a week later, parents were notified that both the morning and afternoon bus routes would be delayed by 15 minutes due to a staffing shortage.

That delay affected nine buses and more than 800 students. At the time, First Student said the staffing shortage was caused by a series of positive COVID-19 test results among bus drivers.

The union and bus company opted to extend its current contract twice throughout the negotiation process to ensure transportation wasn’t disrupted further.

“We love our jobs, we always wanted to pick those kids up,” Arsenault said. “[But] we needed to work and stick together, and I think that’s what we accomplished.”

Sousa said he’s relieved the bus company and union members were able to reach an agreement.

“We’re sorry for all the stress with the children,” Sousa said.

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