A federal labor mediator is expected to come to Columbia in the middle of next month to resolve an ongoing contract dispute between Columbia Public Schools’ bus drivers and First Student Inc., the area’s school bus service provider, officials said Wednesday.
The district’s school bus drivers, represented by Union Local 833, rejected a new contract proposal Aug. 5 with First Student Inc., the area’s school bus service provider. The old contract expired Aug. 1.
The two sides are stalled over changes in the contract’s wording, pay increases and medical benefits.
Mark Bruemmer, business agent for Local 833, said school bus drivers will work under the terms of their old contract until Sept. 14, when an arbitrator from the National American Labor Association will help negotiate terms of a new contract
Bruemmer said it is not uncommon for drivers to work throughout contract negotiations.
“It’s normal to go over extension,” Bruemmer said. “Both sides are getting along very well.”
Lewis Lowry, First Student Inc.’s regional vice president, said he hopes for a peaceful resolution.
Phyllis Chase, superintendent of Columbia Public Schools, said the district has no say in the dispute.
“Our contract is with First Student,” Chase said. “We don’t weigh in on the decision.”
Blake Tekotte, transportation coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, said the company might need outside temporary help if the bus drivers stage a work strike.
“We’d at least run enough buses to get special needs and early childhood to school,” Tekotte said.
First Student is responsible for transporting almost 8,100 children to and from school each day.
Bruemmer ensured that a strike would not occur before the Sept. 14 contract negotiations.
“I don’t foresee a strike happening, but I would give plenty of advanced notice,” Bruemmer said. “I will never leave children at the curb.”