ANCHORAGE — Bus drivers in Alaska’s second-largest school district went on strike after delivering students to classes on Tuesday, citing unfair labor practices.
The near-unanimous strike was called against Durham School Services after members received what Teamsters Local 959 described in a statement as the company’s “last, best, final offer.”
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, which has about 19,000 students living in an area the size of West Virginia, lies directly north of Anchorage and includes communities such as Wasilla, Palmer and Talkeetna.
Durham made its last offer Monday evening and drivers rejected it, union spokesperson Patrick FitzGerald said. He added that the union’s lead negotiator was on the picket line Tuesday and the company was welcome to call him.
“We would love for Durham to send us a respectable offer and something that reflects the value of the work that these drivers do, but the ball is in Durham’s court,” FitzGerald said. “We’re waiting for them to send us an offer.”
Durham spokesperson Edward Flavin said in an email to The Associated Press that the company will continue to bargain in good faith, but noted: “Teamsters 959 made the decision to abandon the students at school and then strike.”
He said the company is working with the district on staffing plans and coverage for the school days ahead.
Besides pay, the drivers cited several safety concerns, including inadequate heaters and headlights, nonworking windshield wipers and having to use their phones as flashlights to find their assigned buses in an unlit lot, FitzGerald said.
Flavin said the rejected offer included wage increases of 8% to nearly 14% with additional money in succeeding years. The package also included $1,500 for each employee upon ratification; the choice of seven insurance plans with the company paying 75% of the costs; and daily guarantees increased from four to six hours for drivers and attendants and seven to eight hours for standby drivers.
“We are prepared to meet and bargain with the union to bring an end to this disruption,” Flavin said.
In a message to parents, the district said it was “disappointed to report” the union chose to strike with no advance notice to school officials.
During the strike, parents or guardians will be responsible for getting students to and from school, the district said. Families will also be responsible for arranging travel for school-related activities, including any outside the district.
All schools will remain open for in-person classes, officials said.
“Although this will inconvenience families, Teamsters Local 959 membership asks that the community stand with school bus workers in solidarity,” the union said in its strike announcement.
Durham is facing about $1.5 million in reduced payments from the school district after failing to meet contract specifications, including missed routes due to bus and driver shortages, the Anchorage Daily News reported.