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Striking Bus Drivers Veto Binding Arbitration Offer


Bus drivers striking against the Los Angeles Unified School District's biggest transportation contractor turned down a proposal Monday from a federal mediator to end their weeklong walkout and enter into binding arbitration.

Officials with Teamsters Union Local 572 said their membership voted against resuming talks with Laidlaw Education Services. The union now is attempting to draw L.A. Unified directly into the dispute, which has delayed 700 bus routes and affected 20,000 schoolchildren.

Students waited an average of 50 minutes each way Monday for trips on Laidlaw routes serviced by substitute drivers.

No further talks are scheduled between the two parties.

Don Owens, a Teamsters spokesman, said, "The school board needs to come into this."

Los Angeles Schools Supt. Roy Romer has refused to get involved, saying that the disagreement is a contractual issue between the union and Laidlaw. "They ought to use the mediator they have, and they ought to settle," Romer said.

But the Teamsters said L.A. Unified is indirectly involved because it did not require Laidlaw to offer wages and benefits comparable to those paid by the district to its 1,100 in-house drivers.

Also applying pressure on the district are state Sen. Gloria Romero and Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, Los Angeles Democrats. They attended a rally at Local 572's Carson headquarters Sunday and urged Romer to institute a "living wage" requirement for district contractors.

School board member Julie Korenstein also plans to introduce a measure at today's Board of Education meeting, stating the right of bus drivers to a living wage.

Romer said he believes Laidlaw is paying its workers a living wage. He said it would be impractical to require living wage packages for the district's many contractors, but said it should be addressed on a "case-by-case basis."

Laidlaw pays its school bus drivers $8 to $15 an hour, while the district pays its own in-house drivers $13 to $24 an hour and offers superior benefits.

Laidlaw Vice President Jim Ferraro said Monday that the bus company's last offer was for wage increases averaging 4.6% each year for three years and better health benefits.

But the Teamsters said the offer proposed better raises for drivers with six to 10 years of experience and less to new and more experienced drivers.

"Our contention from the beginning [was that] we want every member to get an equal raise," Owens said.

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