On the Picket Line

Striking Rhode Island bus drivers win union pension

By Samantha Hamlin
October 29, 2018

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — After 11 days on strike, members of Teamsters Local 251 voted Oct. 13 to ratify a new contract with First Student Inc., winning a union pension plan. This correspondent met several dozen of the striking school bus drivers, some of the 200 members of the union, as they picketed outside the city’s main school bus barn here the day before the vote. Workers were demanding a union pension because the company had violated their contract by failing to pay into their 401(k) retirement fund.

First Student Inc., an international company that contracts with school districts to provide student transportation, is the largest school bus company in North America.

“A lot of the drivers have to work a second job to make ends meet,” Debbie, a driver for 25 years, who asked that her last name not be used, told the Militant. In addition to the strike in Rhode Island, bus drivers employed by First Student have walked out over the last couple of years in Seattle, Southern California, Montreal and other areas, seeking wage increases and improved health benefits and working conditions.

After Providence bus drivers walked off the job Sept. 27, city officials and the local press attempted to smear the strikers, seeking to convince parents and students to oppose the walkout.

Many passing motorists honked in support of the pickets. A few expressed opposition. Driver Hans Jimenez said that after the company   fired a driver six months ago,  “we started talking about what to do, how to fight for higher wages, better health care and a good retirement plan. They make millions of dollars and they don’t care about us. That’s why we need to keep fighting.”