The Mat-Su school bus driver strike is pressing on with no end in sight.
The union representing the drivers is accusing the company that employs them, Durham School Services, of canceling meetings to negotiate a contract and refusing to address safety concerns.
The strike, which started Jan. 31, has tangled student transportation. It means most of the more than 18,000 students at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District don’t have bus service — now for nearly two weeks.
Patrick FitzGerald, spokesman with Teamsters Local 959, said the union made an offer to Durham during negotiations on Thursday. He said the offer was rejected, and Durham officials left the meeting early.
“Without coming back to the meeting, they logged off and sent us a text saying, ‘We are resorting to last, best, final’” FitzGerald said.
The last offer the company sent to the union included 8% to 14% raises and a $1,500 bonus upon ratification of an agreement.
As negotiations escalate, the union announced Friday morning that it had filed several Unfair Labor Practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Durham. The charges range from claims that Durham did not address safety concerns from the union to that it has canceled multiple negotiations meetings, delaying the process. It says Durham has “refused to bargain in good faith.”
Officials with Durham’s parent company, Illinois-based National Express, did not respond to requests for comment.
Mat-Su Borough School District spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey says the strike may be impacting attendance, which is currently at around 85%.
“We are noticing a small bump in absenteeism,” Morrissey said, “but that could be due to the bus strike, that could be sickness, that could be pre-scheduled absences for our students. So we just need a little more time to look into the absenteeism”
In a Facebook post Monday, the district thanked parents for their patience and said if children cannot attend school, they will be able to make up the work.
Morrissey adds that the district encourages both the union and Durham to return to the bargaining table. FitzGerald said the union and its drivers are eager to end the strike as well.
“However, they’re not going to do it for wages that are far outmatched by neighboring communities like Fairbanks and Anchorage,” FitzGerald said. “We’re looking for equity here.”
He says as of Friday morning, Durham has not issued a time to reschedule negotiations.
This story has been updated with comment from the Mat-Su Borough School District.