Bus drivers reach tentative agreement with First Student, avoid strike

2012-08-15T17:10:00Z 2012-08-16T00:08:09Z Bus drivers reach tentative agreement with First Student, avoid strikeBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Area school bus drivers negotiating a new contract with First Student — the national busing company that provides transportation services for School District 2 — have backed away temporarily from threatening to strike.

"There was a threat of strike," said Ron Messman, First Student's SD2 contract manager. "But we came to a tentative agreement."

The drivers union will vote again at the end of the month to ratify the agreement, which would give bus drivers a 3.4 percent raise over three years.

"We're committed to reaching a resolution," said Maureen Richmond, First Student spokeswoman.

In the meantime, when school starts next week, buses will be picking up and dropping off students like before. 

"Everything will be running as usual," Messman said.

In SD2, buses are owned and operated by Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student. The district has regularly signed a five-year contract with the company since the late 1970s.

First Student employs the drivers, who don't work for SD2. The drivers union, which began negotiations with the company late last month, currently is hammering out a three-year contract.

Should contract talks break down and lead to a strike, it would be First Student's responsibility to find replacement drivers, not the district's, said Sondra Baker, SD2's transportation director.

But no one is expecting a strike. Drivers negotiate with First Student every three years and they've always been able to reach an agreement, Baker said.

Because negotiations are between First Student and its drivers, every three years SD2 officials simply watch from the sideline until the new contract is signed. 

Classes in Billings start Wednesday and buses once again will be running their regular routes. Anyone with questions may contact the district's transportation department at 281-5581.

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