As the rain poured down last night, bus drivers from Union Local 833 met to vote on the latest contract proposal from First Student Inc., the area’s school bus provider. After two hours of heated debate, local 833 business agent Mark Bruemmer emerged from the closed meeting to announce the contract passed in a 92-33 vote and that bus drivers will get a raise.
“We’ve got a contract,” he said. “It’s done.”
It’s done, but it wasn’t easy. The tension was evident as shouts arose from the closed session inside the Days Inn conference room. Many union members cast their vote and left early. Some of them thought the offer was not good enough — but the proposal received enough votes to pass.
Bus drivers will receive a 6 percent pay raise in the first year of the contract.
Union member Angela Hernandez said it was difficult to understand the contract’s explanation because of constant interruptions.
“I’m upset because people won’t follow the motions — they talk out of turn,” she said. “It creates confusion because everybody’s yelling and screaming and cursing.”
Huddled under a canopy to avoid the rain, groups of union members went outside to take a break from the meeting and discuss the terms of the new contract.
“Right from the start some people weren’t being cooperative,” one said.
Another said, “people are griping about their own issues.”
One driver, who identified herself as Carla, said: “The longer you’ve been here, the more you get screwed.”
Maryann McCormick has been a driver for six years and she voted for the new contract. She said if the union would have authorized a strike, she would have found another job.
“I don’t see the reason to strike,” she said. “I mean, I’ve got bills to pay.”
McCormick said many people in the meeting lost sight of the issue.
“They’re talking about going on strike, but they’ve got kids to feed,” she said. “I’ve got five grandkids. I’m happy with what they offered.”
Another driver, Watson Strong said, “The one they offered us first was nothing. This one’s a little better but it’s still not what we wanted.”
Clyde Theroff said the wage increase would be more beneficial to drivers who stay with the company.
“The wages are leveraged out where they create a situation so that driver’s will stay longer,” he said.
Although the wage increase was a major point of interest, driver Lyndon Petrillose said it’s not all about the money.
“I like the kids and doing a service for the community,” he said. “I would only like higher pay because it will allow us to have more and better drivers.”
Norman Beattie, the federal mediator from Springfield, was a key player in settling the conflict, said representatives of both the union and First Student.
“He was able to visit with both sides and work out all the differences,” said Lewis Lowry, First Student regional vice president.
Bruemmer said the mediator was influential in persuading the five-member union committee, which voted unanimously on the proposal Tuesday.
“He was able to back the things I was saying to the committee,” Bruemmer said.