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Meriden school bus drivers to return to work Wednesday

Union members and labor advocates picket across the driveway of New Britain Transportation in Meriden, blocking passage of a school bus trying to leave the lot, September 01, 2023, the first day of a strike by more than fifty of the company’s drivers.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Union members and labor advocates picket across the driveway of New Britain Transportation in Meriden, blocking passage of a school bus trying to leave the lot, September 01, 2023, the first day of a strike by more than fifty of the company’s drivers.

Striking school bus drivers in Meriden are set to return to their routes on Wednesday, the school system announced.

Meriden Public Schools said in a statement that while it was not a party in the dispute, it "worked closely with New Britain Transportation and Teamsters Local 671 to help resolve the strike quickly."

"We are pleased to share that our buses will be back in operation," according to a statement from superintendent Mark Benigni and Board of Education president Rob Kosienski, Jr. "Thank you to the bus drivers for all they do for our students, and we are glad to welcome them back."

School bus drivers went on strike Friday morning, demanding higher salaries and better benefits.

Meanwhile, school bus drivers in Coventry went on strike on Tuesday.

Our earlier story:

Before the sun rose Friday morning, around 60 school bus drivers in Meriden gathered along the Berlin Turnpike to begin their strike.

They held picket signs that read “Stop the War on Workers” and “Teamsters Local 671 NBT on Strike.”

They chanted: “What do we want? Contracts! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!”

The strike began after the contract between the New Britain Transportation (NBT) and Teamsters Local 671, the union representing the bus drivers, expired with no negotiations or compromises.

The bus drivers’ wages are way below industry standards, said Nick Frangiamore, the union representative from Teamsters Local 671. He says it takes 20 years to reach $22 an hour.

Frangiamore said drivers also don’t have paid holidays, health care assistance, or a company contribution to their 401K.

“We're prepared to stay on the picket line for as long as it takes for a contract to come that's acceptable for us,” Frangiamore said.

New Britain Transportation didn’t respond on Friday to a request for comment.

Lizette Maldonado, a bus driver for 13 years, leads picketers in chants outside the Meriden offices of New Britain Transportation in Meriden.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Lizette Maldonado, a bus driver for 13 years, leads picketers in chants outside the Meriden offices of New Britain Transportation in Meriden.

School was in session Friday and Meriden Public Schools sent a notice to parents that schools would be in session regardless of the strike. Schools opened an hour early and will stay open later to accommodate parents’ work schedules.

Meriden mayor Kevin Scarpati said teachers and administrators went to school early to open the buildings, and everything went smoothly. Scarpati said around 5,000 children get to school by bus, and attendance Friday was over 89%.

For families who cannot get their children to school, the district plans to offer supplemental and remedial services on the weekends if the strike continues. Parents will be notified on strike developments and updates will be posted on the district’s website.

The district is not directly involved in the contract dispute, but officials “are doing all we can to work with both parties to find a way to resume transportation services to our families as soon as possible,” superintendent Mark Benigni said in a note to parents.

Union members and labor advocates picket across the driveway of New Britain Transportation in Meriden, blocking passage of school bus trying to leave the lot, September 01, 2023, the first day of a strike by more than fifty of the company’s drivers.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Union members and labor advocates picket across the driveway of New Britain Transportation in Meriden, blocking passage of school bus trying to leave the lot, September 01, 2023, the first day of a strike by more than fifty of the company’s drivers.

The Meriden bus drivers have support from several unions, including Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Naugatuck Valley Project, and Teamsters of New England.

Amidst the rallying on Friday morning, several union drivers crossed the picket line to drive buses. Seven buses left the yard. Several drivers stood in front of the buses trying to leave in an attempt to block them.

“They’re no longer a part of the union because they crossed the picket line,” Frangiamore said.

Frangiamore said school bus drivers shouldn’t be “expected to need a second job.”

A driver talks with a New Britain Transportation staff member as picketers block her bus from leaving the lot on the first day of a driver's strike, September 01, 2023.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
A driver talks with a New Britain Transportation staff member as picketers block her bus from leaving the lot on the first day of a driver's strike, September 01, 2023.

“School bus transportation should be the priority, it should be their only income,” he said. “So they can focus on safety, they can get the rest, some of these drivers have to go to second jobs in the middle of the day. It's just disgusting, to be honest with you.”

Lizette Maldonado has been a bus driver for 14 years. She said she doesn’t make a livable wage. She said drivers often have to work overtime since there aren’t enough workers.

But Maldonado said she loves what she does. And she said teachers and parents have been supportive.

“I love working with children,” Maldonado said. “I currently work with special ed kids and I love coming to work. It’s just, inflation has gone up. We all have homes, we all have bills to pay so we do need a little more.”

This story has been updated.

Lesley Cosme Torres is an Education Reporter at Connecticut Public. She reports on education inequities across the state and also focuses on Connecticut's Hispanic and Latino residents, with a particular focus on the Puerto Rican community. Her coverage spans from LGBTQ+ discrimination in K-12 schools, book ban attempts across CT, student mental health concerns, and more. She reports out of Fairfield county and Hartford.

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