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Bus Drivers' Strike Likely to Continue

Labor: Negotiators for the union will urge its members to reject latest contract offer from firm. No new talks are set.


The school bus strike that has disrupted service for thousands of Los Angeles children is likely to continue this week, after union negotiators rejected a three-year contract offer Saturday, the drivers' union said.

Union negotiators plan to recommend that the 842 striking school bus drivers reject the three-year contract on Monday.

The offer made by Laidlaw Education Services, the Los Angeles Unified School District's main transportation contractor, does not address the health and welfare concerns of the drivers, said Rick Middleton, the head of Teamsters Union Local 572.

"It's an offer that needs to be rejected to get it off the table," Middleton said.

He said the union wants a contract that raises wages for all drivers based on their tenure and covers a greater percentage of health-care costs for them and their families.

A Laidlaw representative could not be reached Saturday.

Labor talks between the union and the bus contractor resumed Friday before a federal mediator in Glendale and ended early Saturday morning.

Middleton said he plans to present Laidlaw with a new package by Thursday, and hopes negotiations will resume by the end of the week.

The school bus strike, the first in Los Angeles in at least three decades, followed several months of haggling between the Teamsters and Laidlaw.

L.A. Unified, which has stayed out of the negotiations, assigned its own drivers to ferry 20,000 schoolchildren on the 700 affected Laidlaw routes, but the average delay has been nearly an hour.

Field trips and sporting events also have been disrupted.

Laidlaw's drivers, who earn $8 to $15 an hour, have argued for wages and benefits comparable to those given to bus drivers employed by the school district, who make $13 to $24 hourly and are eligible for district health coverage and state pension plans.

Teamsters spokesman Don Owens said he would not discuss the contract offer in detail.

But he said it would increase hourly wages for all of Laidlaw's drivers, and the raises would be retroactive to August 2001. New hires would be eligible for health insurance.

"They had received wage increases in the past," Owens said, "but one or two trips to the doctor ... and the wage increases went out the window."

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