School bus drivers to continue to work

JACKSON — Bus drivers in four central Mississippi school districts will work the rest of the week although their union has not agreed on new contracts with an Ohio-based bus company.

On Wednesday, Willie Smith, president of Teamsters Local 891, told the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson if an agreement is not reached by Friday, the bus drivers — about 400 of them — should have the right to strike.

Since July, the union has been negotiating a first-time, four-year contract with First Student, a company through which the school districts subcontract transportation.

Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for First Student, said the central Mississippi union representatives “are unwilling to continue negotiations.”

First Student has contracts with Madison, Hinds and Yazoo counties and West Point.

The bus company offered a pay increase of more than 10 percent over four years, but the union has demanded more than twice that amount, she said in a statement.

First Student’s offer would amount to 20-cent increase per hour with a four-hour guarantee, or 80 cents a day, according to a statement from the union. The union is asking for 80 cents-per-hour hike, or about $3.20 more a day.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average hourly wage for a school bus driver in 2008 was $13.01. In Mississippi, it was $8.30.

The Associated Press