MINNEAPOLIS — In the midst of a nationwide school bus driver shortage, drivers and dispatchers from the Minneapolis Public School system are preparing to strike if mediation talks over their contracts fall through.
On Saturday, the Teamsters Local 320 voted unanimously to authorize the action. In a release, union leaders say the district hasn't offered seasoned employees adequate compensation or addressed safety and retention issues during the bus driver shortage the district is experiencing this year.
As workers pick up extra hours and additional routes, the union said the district has offered an $0.11 raise.
State-facilitated mediation talks begin on Wednesday, Dec. 1, and the strike would start 45 days after that. Striking any sooner would be a violation of Minnesota law. Teamsters Local 320 Secretary Treasurer and principal officer Brian Aldes says this comes after meeting twice with the district in October.
“If the district doesn’t increase its economic offer and address the other significant issues we’ve put on the bargaining table, we have been authorized to engage in a full-scale work stoppage with active picket lines and ambulatory pickets at the schools,” Aldes said. “Every independent school district in Minnesota is facing a bus driver shortage but Teamsters are prepared to do something about it where the administration and politicians have failed.”
Aldes says they're seeking competitive wages.
"We believe there is a greater than $3-an-hour difference between Minneapolis Public Schools drivers and competing transportation companies," he said.
In response to the union, the Minneapolis Public School district released the following statement:
Minneapolis Public Schools bus drivers are critical partners in supporting educational access to our school community. We are committed to reaching an agreement through the mediation process and are working to ensure that bus service for students is not interrupted. MPS is making every effort to resolve the collective-bargaining agreement with Local 320.
MPS started the school year with a shortage of drivers, and had asked any parent in the district that can to drive their own students to class. In September, around 50 drivers were still needed.
Saint Paul Public Schools are facing similar issues with hiring drivers, and SPPS needs around 100 to fill their staffing roster.