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Seattle School Bus Drivers Authorize Strike Over Health Care Coverage

Flickr Photo/Chris Blakeley (CC-BY-NC-ND)

School bus drivers in Seattle said they’re close to striking after talks broke down with their employer, First Student, a Seattle School District contractor.

More than 27,000 students depend on the yellow buses to get to school.Drivers unionized last June and joined the Teamsters Local 174. Negotiations between the union and the company have been ongoing for the past eight months, said Teamsters spokesman Michael Gonzales.

He said bus drivers have already authorized a strike, so it could happen as soon as this week.

Health care coverage is the main sticking point, Gonzales said. He called the company’s latest offer unacceptable.

"The cost of the health care plan to the employees was so burdensome that none of them would have been able to sign up for it," Gonzales said. "As an example, anybody who had the family plan would probably have been paying an average of 52 percent of their income a week in order to cover themselves and their families."

A First Student spokeswoman provided this written statement: "First Student is continuing to negotiate in good faith with Teamsters Local #174. We are confident we will reach an agreement that is in the best interest of all parties."

A statement from Seattle Public Schools, meanwhile, says the district’s contract with First Student requires the company to provide replacement drivers in the event of a strike.

First Student and the union are scheduled to go back to the table February 27.

Relations between Seattle school bus drivers and management have been rocky for years.

Shortly before drivers unionized last spring, the National Labor Relations Board found that First Student had engaged in unfair labor practices in trying to quash workers’ organizing efforts.

Gonzales with the Teamsters said the union is taking advantage of the school district’s mid-winter break this week to get its message out and give families a chance to organize alternate transportation.

Year started with KUOW: 2008