Seattle public school bus drivers began a strike Thursday morning, and it's unclear how long the picketing will last.
The strike comes amid ongoing labor negotiations between the bus driver union and school-bus contractor First Student.
It's the second time in the past few months that bus service will be disrupted. Drivers went on strike for one day in November. But this time around it could go on longer, according to a statement on the union’s website.
The strike by the group of 400 First Student school bus drivers will likely impact all yellow bus service to the Seattle School District, and will last until a deal is reached with First Student. Teamsters Local 174 does not typically announce strikes in advance, however, the Union and its members wished to give Seattle parents adequate notice to make arrangements for their children.
Drivers want a better deal on health care and retirement benefits. The statement on the union page continues:
First Student’s most recent proposal was essentially a reimagining of the same proposal the drivers had already rejected, with the addition of one piece that would benefit a mere 22 out of the over 400 bus drivers in the group.
A statement from First Student Senior Director Chris Kemper says, “We are extremely disappointed that Teamsters Local 174 leadership refused to bring the new contract offer to our drivers for a vote. The deal on the table, we believe, is fair and equitable to all parties.”
Kim Schmanke, a spokeswoman for Seattle School District, said roughly 12,000 students use yellow school buses daily.
She said the strike is frustrating because it will have a big impact on families.
"So we're busy working with our schools to make sure that, no matter how long the strike happens, our families have supports in place and particularly for those who are going to struggle to get their kids to and from school without First Student school bus service," she said.
The school district has encouraged families to make alternate plans, including car pools, walking groups and public transit for older students.
Sebrena Burr, president of the Seattle Council Parent Teacher Student Association, said she supports the bus drivers. But she said the strike will have consequences, especially for the district's most vulnerable families.
"Students who are on free and reduced lunch, their families depend on that breakfast and that lunch. And so if they can't get their child to school and they don't have the food within their home, that's going to be huge," Burr said.
The school district says it's likely that absenteeism rates will rise if the strike is protracted. If it lasts through Wednesday next week, teachers with the Seattle Education Association plan to stage a walkout in solidarity with the drivers.