Seattle school bus drivers' strike enters fifth day

A last-ditch effort failed and Seattle school bus drivers have walked off the job, which is the same thing they did two months ago. But this time, the strike may last longer than one day.

For the second time this school year, a school bus driver strike in Seattle will force an estimated 12,000 students to find another way to get to school.

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"We have been notifying families for months now -- since mid-October, actually -- to think about how would you get your kids to school if the school bus service you rely on doesn't exist anymore or goes away for a short time," said Kim Schamnke, a spokesperson for Seattle Public Schools.

First day of bus driver strike

Picketers protested outside the bus yard in north and south Seattle Thursday.

KIRO 7 saw a number of drivers pulling out of the lots in their buses, choosing to cross the picket line.

The union called the action "unfortunate."

“Some people are putting priority on themselves over the greater group,” said Jamie Fleming with Teamster Local 174.

School staff were handing out notes to parents reminding them that school is open during the strike and it would be considered “unexcused” absences if kids couldn't make it to class.

KIRO 7 reached out to Seattle Public Schools to find out how many students were absent Thursday due to the bus drivers strike.

They are working to get us those numbers.

Day two of strike, on Friday

If the bus strike continues into next week, the Seattle Education Association told KIRO 7 that its teachers, and classified staff, will show their support with a walk out on Wednesday.

Students will not be affected by this gesture, because they have a half-day of school.

"Two-thirds of the members voted with a 93-percent in favor of supporting the bus drivers with a solidarity walkout on a half-day Wednesday," Phyllis Campano, the president of the Seattle Education Association, said. "Once the students leave, we will gather at five different locations around the city with picket signs."

“I feel like the bus drivers deserve adequate healthcare,” Heather Hollenbeck, a parent who made the trip to support the bus drivers on day two of the strike, said. "And I feel it's a reasonable request what they're asking for."

Parents know that until both sides can reach a deal, they'll face the daily challenge of getting their kids to and from school.

"[It’s been a lot on me in] just these few days,” Rogelio Gutierrez, who picked up his daughter from elementary school, said. “It's hard [to adjust my work schedule]. Imagine [if this ends up lasting for] a month? A lot of things will happen [during that time]. Hopefully they come to an agreement and they both can be happy."

Day five of school bus strike

A major development in the Seattle school bus strike took place on day five.

Hours after teachers joined the walkout, KIRO 7 confirmed that both sides will resume negotiations on Thursday, Feb. 8.

Teachers from the Seattle Public Schools walked out in solidarity as the school bus strike entered day five.

No classes were disrupted due to an early release for students.

"We support our bus drivers and their request for a fair deal with First Student,” Gary Goldwater, a Seattle elementary school teacher, said.

"They have a great relationship with our kids, just like the teachers and the staff at the school do,” said Rachel Pendergast, whose an elementary school teacher.

School bus drivers want better health care and retirement benefits but haven't been able to reach a deal with the company that employs them, First Student.

"As a parent, I'm appalled that this global company that made over $400 million in profits last year cannot afford the small numbers of dollars it would take to provide these drivers with the basic human dignity their entitled to,” Jonathan Rosenblum, a concerned parent, said.

"We came back this last Tuesday and gave them [school bus drivers] a proposal where we said, 'If you want full-time benefits, we ask that you work full-time, just like our other full-time employees in the Seattle location,’” Kim Mingo, a First Student lead negotiator, said.

The Seattle Public Schools told KIRO 7 that if every route went unrun, First Student could have to pay as much as $1.2 million per day if the strike continues.

But until the contract issue is fully resolved, the district would not be in a position to pursue liquidated damages.

On the first day of the strike, the school district told KIRO 7 they had 180 absences which is more than average.

Why the bus drivers are striking

This time around, the school bus drivers are going on strike because they're looking for more affordable health benefits and a stronger retirement plan.

"I think the company is offering 80 percent medical and a 401(k)," said George Frauenberg, a Seattle school bus driver. “That is a really good deal. But I think people picketing need to know what they're picketing for. The last time I spoke with people they didn't even know."

"We need more than what we're getting,” said Alex Bergstrom, another school bus driver. “We need to know that after we work for you guys for 20 years, and we blow out or knees and our ankles and our hips, we'll have something to take care of us."

First Student is the company that employs the bus drivers. They say they made a good proposal that the union voted down.

"There's people here with families that need insurance,” Judith Hungerford, a school bus driver for over 30 years, said. “$1,000 a month out of their pay? That's ridiculous."

The bus driver’s union said the latest health care proposal is not good enough for any drivers with spouses or children.

KIRO 7 spoke with the union that represents the bus drivers, and representatives said First Student knows what they brought to the negotiating table was not good enough.

During a meeting earlier this month, the bus drivers told the union that's representing them that they were not interested in voting for a proposal that only gives them medical coverage.

Bus drivers want to make sure their children and spouses are also covered with medical insurance.

Teachers plan to walk out in solidarity Wednesday

The teachers' union said it will send out more details of a planned walkout later this week.

The good news for parents is that if teachers do walkout, it would happen on an already scheduled half day on Feb. 7.

Thoughts from parents, students

Seattle student Che Dixon admitted before the strike he could see the drivers' point of view. "The strike is within their rights as they fight for better healthcare benefits," he said. “I'd probably do the same thing if I was in their shoes.”

Parent Hassan Finch admitted that he had issues with the situation, but simply wanted people to think of children who have to find a different want to school. “It's naturally wrong, kids should come first," he said.

KIRO 7 also talked to parents outside of Olympic Hills Elementary School in North Seattle during the first day of the strike Thursday. Many were upset they had to find another way to get their kids to school.

“You have extra cars here, people almost getting in wrecks,” said parent Steven Gilbert.

“It’s bad for families who use the bus. It’s really bad,” said parent Teresa Solis.

Thursday night, KIRO 7 spoke with parents picking up their children from school.

"I have to leave my job like two or three hours early and it's not good. It's not good for me and for my family. I hope this thing is going to be resolved very soon,” said parent Patricia Cortez.