School bus drivers' union rep says strike is not imminent in East Providence

But admits negotiations have hit an impasse

By Mike Rego
Posted 1/14/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — According the union spokesman representing the district’s school bus drivers, a strike is not in the offing, but negotiations between the parties have stalled.Nicholas …

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School bus drivers' union rep says strike is not imminent in East Providence

But admits negotiations have hit an impasse

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — According to the union spokesman representing the East Providence school district’s school bus drivers, a strike is not in the offing, but negotiations between the parties have stalled.

Nicholas Williams, the business agent for Teamsters Local 251 negotiating on behalf of the drivers with Ocean State Transit, appeared before the School Committee at its meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 14, to give elected officials and the public an update on the situation.

Mr. Williams, a city resident, provided some background, saying the drivers voted to unionize through Local 251 in April of 2019. The Teamsters then began bargaining with Ocean State Transit in June. He said the sides had about 12 sessions before coming to a stalemate. They next agreed to mediation, but after two meetings have to date made “minuscule movement.”

Drivers recently voted to allow union leaders to call the strike if warranted later, Mr. Williams said, but noted the move was somewhat procedural in nature.

“This is a normal course of bargaining,” Mr. Williams added. “It happens in just about every contract. The difference is nobody is affected the way they are with children not going to school.”

Mr. Williams stressed the negotiation is not atypical. The situation received added attention in recent days, including a public show of unity by drivers outside City Hall before Tuesday’s meeting and by their presence inside the chamber that same evening.

“With the media attention that came from this, we’re hoping that opens up the door a little bit more,” Mr. Williams said.

He continued, “We have negotiated successful contracts with Ocean State Transit in the past. We’ve had a great relationship with the company in the past and we hope to continue that.”

Mr. Williams said the sides are scheduled to meet for what he called a “long session” on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 16. “We remain confident we will get this deal done as we have before,” Mr. Williams added. “We’re hopeful to see things move.”

(Updated, 11:50 a.m., January 15)

After the meeting, School Committee Chairman Charlie Tsonos said he appreciated Mr. Williams' comments on the matter, which could affect other districts as well. He said the same pool of drivers currently in negotiations include mostly those who service East Providence, but a signiificant amount also drive for Barrington and in addition a few charter school drivers are represented in the bargaining unit.

"We're obviously making alternative arrangements in case something happens," Mr. Tsonos added. "But it was good to hear they're still negotiating. Hopefully they come to an agreement soon."

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