Bus drivers strike for better pay, working conditions, cause delays in school bus routes

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Some bus drivers went on strike last week after unsettled disputes with First Student Inc. (FSI), a school transportation provider.

“Alhambra Unified School District (AUSD) was notified of a potential strike last week between FSI and union members,” Nico Richardson, Director of Transportation Services for AUSD, said. “The district has been preparing alternative transportation for all AUSD students in the event of a strike.”

The union members are employees of FSI and work as bus drivers. However, FSI drivers are not employees of AUSD and FSI buses are not district owned.

In addition to not attending work to transport students, strikers picketed with signs last Thursday at a bus facility in Pasadena where one of FSI’s stations is located.

“We are striking because the company is not recognizing the benefits that we are trying to obtain,” FSI Bus Driver James Motty said in an interview with Pasadena Now. “We’re trying to drive safer buses. We have problems with sick time. The company is requiring things that the state doesn’t require, breaking the law.”

Strikers are also demanding higher wages. Motty said that “[drivers have] a high rate of turnover because we have a low salary rate.” However, the most prominent request from strikers is fair and equal treatment from employers.

“We’re just fighting for fairness,” Ana Acosta, a bus driver who has been working for FSI for 26 years, said in the same interview. “Bus conditions are horrible, I mean unsanitary. Staff here treats us like children; they give us no respect and all we want is for them to value our job.”

As a result, San Gabriel High School students were affected in their activities. After school buses were and are still arriving later due to assistance with elementary routes. Basketball teams had to arrive to games in a charter bus—not their regular bus. Because AUSD does not have buses specifically for wheelchairs, physically disabled students have had to find different ways of transportation.

Staff members who do not drive buses had to substitute for the lack of bus drivers. Some new bus drivers were confused and drove students to the wrong destinations, causing students to be late for school. An email was sent out to teachers to excuse late students who use the bus for transportation.

“On Wednesday [Jan. 23] we didn’t have a bus driver, so then I had to get a ride by my friend,” senior Vannak Vong said. “On Tuesday [Jan. 22] our bus driver went the wrong way and he went up to Atlantic Plaza. We went to where people were calling East [Los Angeles], so then people told him he was going the wrong way.”

The district sent a letter home to students about community meetings to inform and update families of the situation.

Richardson said that AUSD “has no control over the outcome” of the strike and it is unknown when the conflict will end.

“We are making every effort possible to ensure all of our AUSD students continue to get safe and reliable transportation to and from school,” Richardson said. “Once the strike is called off, we will notify all the principals at all the school sites.”

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