Local parents and school districts are working on contingency plans if bus drivers with First Student, Inc. decide to strike, which potentially could leave hundreds of students without transportation to and from school later this week.
First Student bus drivers will be transporting students on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Tom Flynn, president and business manager of Teamsters Local 179 in Joliet.
Although some local school districts, such as Troy Community Consolidated School District 30-C, supply their own bus service, others districts contract with First Student.
Some of those districts impacted locally include Joliet Public Schools District 86, Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202, Chaney-Monge School District 88, Will County School District 92 and Elwood Community Consolidated School District 203.
These districts have sent out communication alerting families to the possibility of the strike and to make other transportation arrangements for the students, just in case.
District 202 said it is working on contingency plans. Chaney-Monge School District 88 and Will County School District 92 said they may extend the pickup and drop off times should a strike occur.
However, a strike would not impact special education students at District 202 and District 86 as another bus service transports those students, according to District 202 and District 86.
District 86 said in its letter that Grand Prairie Transit provides bus service for its special education students.
A strike would not impact the Hopewell buses that transport Chaney-Monge out-of-district students to other schools, according to Chaney-Monge. Hopewell, a separate bus company, is contracted with Lockport Area Special Education Cooperative and is not related to the possible First Student strike, according to Chaney-Monge.
Flynn said the union and First Student have been in negotiations for months. Pay is one of the issues, Flynn said. A strike will affect about 350 bus drivers in Will County, Flynn said.
“We had a couple of tentative agreements that have not passed,” Flynn said. “We have a new tentative agreement today that we will be voting on by the end of week. Hopefully that will pass.”
Flynn said bus service has not been disrupted – yet. But that may change before the week is up. But Flynn wanted to assure parents that if a strike does occur, it will occur in the morning.
“We’re not having drivers drop those kids off at school in the morning and leave them there,” Flynn said.
District 202 sent out additional communication early Monday afternoon letting parents know more detailed information will arrive later Monday afternoon or evening.
Buses will be available Monday for after-school athletics and activities for District 202 students. District 202 students were not in school Monday due to a school improvement day.
In a letter posted to the Will County School District 92 Facebook page Saturday, Superintendent Tim Arnold assured parents District 92 had no control over the strike and apologized for the inconvenience “especially after getting off to our most ‘normal’ start to a school year since 2019.”
“We contract our transportation services with First Student and they service a number of school districts out of their Crest Hill location,” Arnold said in the letter. “This situation impacts all school districts who use First Student buses at the Crest Hill bus depot. Since busing is contracted service, we are not involved with First Student’s negotiations with their bus drivers.
“We are in active discussions today with Teamsters Local 179 as we try to reach a new contract agreement.”
Jen Biddinger, spokesperson for First Student, said in a written statement that the company was in active negotiations with Teamsters Local 179 on Monday with the hope of reaching a new contract agreement.
Biddinger said the focus was on “finding a mutually beneficial resolution that would avoid any disruption in service.”
“We understand that even one day without yellow bus transportation would be difficult for families.” Biddinger said in the statement. “We are committed to reaching an agreement with Local 179 as soon as possible.”
Shayla Day of Joliet said her 7-year-old daughter attends one of the academies in District 86, which is about 15 minutes away from her Joliet home, so not having bus service will be “a little bit of an inconvenience.”
Day said her daughter will be disappointed, though, since her daughter has had some “amazing bus drivers” through First Student and that her daughter loves her current bus driver.
“My daughter is extremely excited when she gets on the bus,” Day said. “She has a sweet, caring bus driver. … I can’t get upset for my daughter’s sake, so I’ve got to figure things out.”
Nevertheless, Day said she fully supports the bus drivers. Day said her brother previously worked as a bus driver and she understands the challenges of transporting many students to and from school.
“I know what the bus drivers are dealing with,” Day said. “There’s a shortage of bus drivers and bus drivers are being required to work more hours.”