Hundreds of First Student school bus drivers are walking off the job on Thursday for the second time in two months to protest what they call "substandard" healthcare and retirement benefits.
Members of Teamsters Local 174 said they are protesting "unfair labor practices." A union statement said its 400 union members do not typically announce a strike in advance but released their intentions on Monday "to give Seattle parents adequate notice to make arrangements for their children."
First Student spokesman Chris Kemper said on Tuesday that First Student is "extremely disappointed" that Teamsters leadership did not bring a new contract offer to drivers for a vote. The company proposed an extended benefits package, which Kemper said includes comprehensive health care for all full-time employees and their families. A previous contract that did not extend health care to families was cited by the Teamsters as one of the driving forces behind the strike.
First Student would also cover 80 percent of annual health care premiums for part-time employees.
Seattle bus drivers also participated in a one-day unfair labor practice strike on Nov. 29 in response to what the union called an inferior healthcare plan that had not been negotiated without the Teamsters participation. Kemper said that strike resulted in "chaos for families, students, teachers and drivers alike."
All regular and special eduation school bus route service is discontinued "until further notice," Seattle Public Schools posted on its website. Affected students and their families were also notified by phone and email Wednesday.
The district is encouraging families to find alternate means of getting students to and from school. Options include carpools, walking school buses or, depending on the child's age, public transit.
All field trips are also canceled, though charter service for athletic events remains intact. Seattle Public Schools added that district-arranged, private transportation for certain special education students is not affected.