On the Picket Line

School bus drivers in Seattle strike for health care, pensions

By Edwin Fruit
February 19, 2018

SEATTLE — Some 400 school bus drivers, members of Teamsters Local 174, went on strike against First Student bus company here Feb. 1.

First Student is the largest school bus operator in North America, with over 50,000 workers in more than 1,000 school districts. Drivers have been forced out on strike in Pasadena, Glendale and Alhambra in Southern California; Montreal; Manchester, England; as well as Seattle so far this year. It’s a subsidiary of FirstGroup in the United Kingdom, one of the largest bus operators there.

The company is notorious for having rock-bottom wages and unsafe working conditions. “Their business model is based on paying their employees as little as possible with no benefits,” Teamster spokeswoman Jamie Fleming told the Seattle Times.

“I’m here because I want the company to give people what we deserve,” Barbara King, who has worked 32 years as a driver, told Socialist Workers Party members who visited the strike picket line in solidarity Feb. 2. “You hear about how a lot of people in this country are just a couple paychecks from being homeless. Well, the company wants to add us to that list!”

The main issues are health care and pensions. People on the picket line told us that many of the drivers work a split shift totaling only four to six hours a day.

The company claims it agreed to cover health care for part-time workers, but drivers on the picket line said that the family monthly cost would be at least $1,000.

Abe Taylor, Teamsters 174 business agent, told us only a quarter of the 400 drivers are classified full time. “While workers work four to six hours a day, they must be available and ready for work 12 hours a day,” he said.

The company urged workers to cross the picket line, he said, offering full-time hours to anyone who would scab, as well as an extra $25 a day and free lunch.

The next day SWP members knocked on workers’ doors in the neighborhood near one of the bus barns. We talked to Jai Washington, who told us she sympathized with the bus drivers.

“This is an inconvenience for me because I have to have my child use Metro buses rather than the school bus,” she said. “But everyone is entitled to decent health care coverage and I hope they get what they deserve.”

Teamsters Local 572, which represents the drivers in Southern California, announced Jan. 31 that it had reached an agreement with First Student there after a two-week strike. In addition to better pay and benefits, one of the main issues had been safety on the job. Driver James Motty told the press that he reported broken equipment on his buses numerous times, but was ordered to drive them anyway.