The union representing bus drivers in three Massachusetts school districts recently warned that roughly 150 drivers could go on strike Monday if a contract agreement with the districts’ transportation company is not reached this week.
A strike could disrupt transportation for thousands of students in Westborough, Marlborough, and Framingham, which rely on private vendor North Reading Transportation [NRT] Bus Inc. for transportation services.
In a statement released by Teamsters Local 170, the union representing bus drivers in all three districts argued that NRT stalled negotiations earlier this year, despite the union’s offer to meet during April vacation and on weekends. The drivers are asking for fair wages, healthcare, and retirement benefits.
James Marks, a business agent with Teamsters Local 170, said in an e-mail to the Globe on Wednesday that the union is “not ready to speak any more about the potential job action” and that they have recently been negotiating with the company “around the clock.”
“These 150 drivers reached out to Teamsters Local 170 and overwhelmingly voted for us to represent them,” Marks said in a Facebook post Saturday. “After more than 41 negotiation sessions with NRT and very little movement by the company, long caucuses which resulted in no movement, we made the decision to issue a strike notice.”
NRT officials said in a statement that they have been negotiating with the union in good faith since January and hope they can reach a resolution.
“While we respect our employees’ federally protected right to strike, we are extremely saddened that the Teamsters are considering moving forward with a strike, particularly given the progress that we’ve made in our collective bargaining discussions over the last few months,” the company said in the statement.
Leaders in the affected school district said they were not directly involved in labor negotiations between a private company and its employees, so they could not influence the matter. But they have been preparing for the consequences.
Marlborough Public Schools Superintendent Mary Murphy said in a statement that the impact of a strike would be significant as the district provides daily transportation to 3,800 students “whom have no alternative transportation option to school.”
“District leaders are focused on creating plans to minimize the impact on students should a strike take place,” Murphy said, adding that principals are surveying parents to identify how many families would not have transportation and are outside of possible walking zones.
“We remain hopeful that Teamsters Local 170 and North Reading Transportation can come to a fair and equitable solution so that the students of Marlborough Public Schools are not impacted,” she said.
Lincoln Lynch IV, the executive director of finance and operations at Framingham Public Schools, said that all three school districts have been in communication with one another, as well as NRT, to figure out alternative transportation options in case the drivers do proceed with a strike.
Lynch said one plan he has been discussing with the bus company is possibly bringing in drivers from other bus yards out of state to provide the district help with getting the 5,400 Framingham students who take the bus to school next week.
He added that the district would still face challenges with fewer drivers who are on new routes, but that the district is trying to prepare for pending delays that could occur.
“For many of us, the preparation for Monday has been ‘drop everything else that you’re working on and try to figure out a plan to get as many students to school as possible’,” Lynch said. “My hope is that I get a message on Sunday night that negotiations have been completed, they’ve reached a deal, and that our 55 drivers will be behind the wheel on Monday.”