Today marks the fifth school day since Seattle school bus drivers went on strike demanding more affordable health insurance. This afternoon after the school day ends, Seattle Public School teachers and staff who are members of the Seattle Education Association plan to join the drivers at the picket line in a show of solidarity.
The drivers work for First Student, an international company that has a contract from the school district to provide yellow bus service. They say the company is refusing to offer affordable insurance for them and their family members; the company claims it has made a fair offer. Despite the strike, some drivers have been crossing the picket line. First Student said about 70 drivers worked today despite the strike. The company is offering eight hours of pay, a $50 per diem, and meals to drivers who work through the strike.
In total, about 12,000 students get to school on yellow buses each day. With the majority of the 400 drivers on strike, most parents are left looking for alternate arrangements to get their kids to school. And at least one of those parents says it's worth it.
Public school parent Shawna Murphy says she's been writing to the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors each day of the strike. Today, she shared her letter with us. By using drivers who've crossed the picket line, the school district is "weakening the power of the workers as they fight for their rights," Murphy writes.
Murphy writes that she is a child care worker and member of SEIU 925 whose family also joined the 2015 teacher's strike.
"My daughters know that if their route is restored during the strike they will not be able to ride," she writes. "As a licensed child care worker and a member of SEIU 925, my students will not break the line."
Here's a photo of Murphy's children that she sent with her letter:
Read Murphy's full letter below:
Dear Dr. Nyland and Directors,
During this historical Black Lives Matter at Schools Week as I sing your praises for committing to our students, staff and families of color, I must also publicly condemn your disrespect for the striking bus drivers of Teamsters 174 who work for First Student. My children have been attending Seattle Public Schools for 9 years and the majority of their drivers have been people of color-all of the aides we’ve had on our buses over the years have been people of color. The school bus drivers are being systemically oppressed by their employer, First Student, who is a multinational corporation with over $6 billion in profits last year [Editor's note: The Seattle Times reports First Student’s parent company has revenue of about $7 billion a year.] and yet refuses to even return to the table to negotiate fair health care benefits.
By choosing to use drivers who have crossed the picket lines to staff the prioritized Title One school and special education routes, the district is siding with First Student and is weakening the power of the workers as they fight for their rights. When I was in second grade, in September of 1976, our teachers were on strike for 10 days and the District brought in substitutes. My mother worked for the phone company and was a union member of Communications Workers of America. I loved school and wanted to go, but my mother explained to me why we must support our teachers and never cross a picket line. When my children’s teachers were out on strike in 2015, my children and I joined them on the picket line out in front of our school. I remember how my kindergartener cried telling her new teacher how much she wanted to be inside the school. Her teacher replied, “We all do; that’s why we are out here fighting for a fair contract, so we can get back inside doing what we love to do. Teaching kids!” My daughters know that if their route is restored during the strike they will not be able to ride. As a licensed child care worker and a member of SEIU 925, my students will not break the line.
I am so grateful that our educators, in conjunction with their union Seattle Education Association, will be joining our bus drivers on the picket lines Wednesday after school. [Editor's note: the letter originally read "as part of their union," rather than "in conjunction." We changed the wording at Murphy's request.] Our teachers know what an integral part these drivers play in the lives of the 12,000 students they safely transport to and from school each day. These teachers respect the drivers and believe that the drivers deserve access to the same health care benefits as district staff receive.
When the District tries to remain neutral as First Student pays drivers to cross the picket lines, the District is actually publicly siding with First Student. First Student offered drivers a full day’s pay, free lunch and a per diem that started at $25 in the beginning of the strike and is now being raised to $50! If First Student can afford such costly incentives, why not invest in their drivers by paying them a fair wage and offering competitive health care benefits?
The District has refused to take responsibility for the driver’s situation citing the excuse that First Student was the only bidder for transportation services. Even if there is only one bidder for contracted services the District must take steps to insure that the contractor will be a fair employer who is in step with the culture of the district. In our school district we believe in offering a competitive wage so that workers can live in the city where they work. Our community also believes that workers have the right to health care coverage.
At schools across the city many special education students have not been able to attend since the strike began. At my daughters’ school with over 500 students being dropped off and picked up in individual vehicles, traffic and safety issues have occurred. This strike is creating unsustainable conditions and hardship for many families. I urge you to reverse your current position of encouraging drivers to cross the picket lines, and publicly condemn First Student for their unethical treatment of their employees. Please bring both sides back to the table, put pressure on First Student to offer fair health care coverage and end this strike quickly.
Mother of 2 SPS students