WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — After a moment of uncertainty, parents in Warwick no longer have to worry about transporting their children to school Friday morning.
Parents were warned Wednesday in an email from the district that since First Student and ATU Local 618, which represents Warwick’s bus drivers, have not reached an agreement on a new contract, “the possibility of a work stoppage exists.”
“At this time nothing is certain, but we wanted to give families the most advanced notice possible,” the email said.
But Thursday evening, ATU Local 618 Secretary Treasurer Steve Sousa said the union plans to pick kids up and drop them off from school Friday.
Sousa said the union had previously signed an extension through Friday to ensure that transportation services aren’t interrupted.
With negotiations at a standstill, Sousa said the union voted to strike Thursday night, though he hopes it doesn’t come down to that.
Sousa said it typically takes the union two weeks to prepare for a strike, meaning First Student has time to come to a mutual agreement beforehand.
“That will give them an opportunity to come to the table and settle whatever issues we have,” he explained.
Sousa said the union has signed another contract extension through Oct. 22, meaning bus services will not be disrupted for at least a week.
In a statement, First Student said they were disappointed that the union chose to reject “the very generous wage and benefits package that we presented to them.”
That package, according to First Student, includes average wage increases of 30% over the three-year term of the contract, with top pay reaching $27.25 for experienced drivers.
In addition, First Student also offered a 29% increase in 401K contributions and a 33% increase in life insurance benefits.
“We believe the offer contained in the tentative agreement is a very competitive compensation and benefits package for our dedicated Warwick school bus drivers,” First Student said. “First Student remains committed to remaining at the negotiating table and to reaching a fair and equitable new contract agreement for our valued Warwick school bus drivers.”
The district has made it clear that neither the city, nor the Warwick School Committee, are involved in the ongoing negotiations.
Superintendent Lynn Dambruch told 12 News she’s frustrated that the school district hasn’t been included in these conversations.
“I want to be part of the solution, but I’m not part of the negotiating team,” she said.
This wouldn’t have been the first time students in Warwick were left without rides to school.
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 on Tuesday, 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. First Student told 12 News the staffing shortage was caused by a series of positive COVID-19 test results among bus drivers.