One week into the Seattle Public School bus driver strike, the two sides may be edging closer to a resolution.
Yellow school bus contractor First Student will enter into mediation with the union representing the drivers Thursday. This will be the first meeting between the two sides since the strike began.
When the drivers went on strike last week, they said they'd stay on the picket lines until a deal was reached with their employer.
Teamsters Local 174, the union representing roughly 400 Seattle Public School bus drivers, said they’re optimistic the meeting will get them closer to that deal.
“We are hopeful that this meeting will bring us closer to a resolution to this strike,” the union said in a statement on their website.
First Student says they’re also hoping for a positive outcome.
“We remain hopeful that the union will take a closer look at our offer [Thursday] and end the strike that is causing so much hardship for Seattle Public Schools families and our drivers,” First Student said in a statement.
Health care benefits and retirement plans are at the core of the contract negotiations that broke down before the strike began.
First Student has said throughout the strike that their proposal is fair and equitable.
“The benefits package includes year-round comprehensive health care for SPS drivers with the company paying 80 percent of health insurance premiums. This is in addition to the 401k retirement plan with company match and a top wage of $24 per hour,” the company said in a statement.
But the union maintains the current deal is not good enough. Drivers want more affordable health care and better retirement plan options.
First Student says they’re open to hearing the union’s counter offer.
In the meantime, thousands of students still don’t have reliable bus service.
According to the school district, roughly 12,000 students normally take yellow buses to and from school. The vast majority of those students continue to need alternate transportation.
At least 50 bus drivers have crossed the picket lines to attend work each day. First Union says nearly one-third of all bus routes have been covered this week. The company is offering drivers a $50 per diem, eight hours of guaranteed work and lunch to show up to work.
Routes that serve students with special needs and under-served communities are being prioritized.
The bus drivers were joined Wednesday by some Seattle teachers. Seattle teachers union members walked out after their classes finished to join the drivers on picket lines. The union says drivers are grateful for the support.