Most school bus service in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District resumed Monday, a day after drivers ratified a new contract and ended a monthlong strike.
According to the district’s website, all special education routes are running, with some regular Palmer and Butte-area routes not operating Monday under a rolling-cancellation schedule.
Bus drivers with the union Teamsters Local 959 went on strike Jan. 31 after rejecting a contract offer from district contractor Durham School Services. They protested over what they told the school board were unsafe conditions at the company. The strike, which started midday, forced frustrated Mat-Su parents to pick up their students that afternoon and throughout February in a district about the size of West Virginia.
Patrick FitzGerald, the union’s political coordinator, said contract talks with Durham finally achieved a breakthrough on Thursday.
“Our negotiating team said, ‘You know, we aren’t in a place where we can accept your last best final offer, and it’s not our negotiating team that’s stopping it, it’s our membership – they will not vote for it,’” FitzGerald said. “So we just started saying we need to find, somewhere, some common ground here and just started throwing numbers at each other.”
Union officials took the tentative agreement to members Sunday, who voted “overwhelmingly” to approve it after a four-hour discussion.
FitzGerald said the terms of the contract, as ratified Sunday, include a $2-an-hour raise during its first year plus 3-percent raises in its second and third years. The contract also includes raises for bus attendants and monitors, as well as an improved health-care plan.
“So the drivers’ starting pay is $23.31 (an hour) the first year, and it’ll increase 3 percent next year, 3 percent the year after that, which will put them back to competitive wages with the state,” he said.
The contract also includes a grievance process by which union members can identify and address safety issues at Durham. Drivers who packed a borough school board meeting last month raised concerns ranging from poorly lit bus barns to buses lacking external public-address speakers and heaters, some of which Durham said at the time it was already working on.
A brief statement Monday from Durham’s parent company, Illinois-based National Express, confirmed the strike’s end.
“We are looking forward to continuing to transport our students to and from school safely each day,” company officials wrote.
On Friday, district superintendent Dr. Randy Trani thanked parents and students for their patience during the strike.