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Coventry school bus drivers go on strike, as Meriden drivers head back to work

Kathy Zima (left) and Mickie Hathaway (right) have both been bus drivers in Coventry for over 20 years. Today they marched in front of Town Hall during a union strike demanding a new contract.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
Kathy Zima (left) and Mickie Hathaway (right) have both been bus drivers in Coventry for over 20 years. Today they marched in front of Town Hall during a union strike demanding a new contract.

School bus drivers in Coventry went on strike Tuesday, as striking school bus drivers in Meriden announced they are set to return to their routes on Wednesday.

In Coventry, drivers took to the picket lines at 5 a.m. and took a break around 9 a.m. due to the excessive heat. But by 2 p.m. they were back outside striking.

They stood under the shade as passing cars and trucks honked in support.

The strike is the result of stalled contract negotiations between M&J Bus, Inc. and the Teamsters, Coventry school leaders said.

Eric Downer, a business agent for Teamsters Local 671, represents the drivers. He said drivers have a commercial driver’s license, go through six hours of training and are subjected to background checks. The drivers, he said, are professionals, but aren’t paid like them.

Downer said a driver starting out could make the same or more at a fast food joint and with less hassle.

“In this district, the start rate, I believe, is at $16 an hour,” Downer said.

Kathy Zima has been a school bus driver with the Coventry school district for 23 years. Zima said she and her colleagues are also asking the bus company to meet their demands, which they say will in turn improve their quality of life.

“Generally, it is better health care, it's increased wages, and 401(k), and things like that,” Zima said.

She said the fact they’re striking now means negotiations have stopped.

“We ... have to stay strong, so that we can improve the conditions that we have in our contract. So that, in turn, would invite more drivers to explore what it means to be a bus driver,” she said.

Downer said he hopes a deal will be reached soon and the strike can end.

“We hope to get an agreement as soon as possible. We don't mean to burden a town or its citizens,” Downer said.

School continues to be in session, and Coventry school leaders said the strike had minimal impact on school attendance. On Tuesday, there was a 97% student attendance rate.

"We recognize that a strike by the Teamsters will impose significant challenges on the entire Coventry school community, and we will work with our families to deal with the expected disruption to the transportation services," Superintendent David J. Petrone said in a statement.

Meanwhile, school bus drivers in Meriden ended their strike Tuesday after reaching an agreement with New Britain Transportation.

Meriden Public Schools released a statement saying while it was not a party in the dispute, it worked closely with the bus company and Teamsters Local 671 to help resolve the strike quickly.

The workers went on strike early Friday morning calling for better pay, health benefits and a 401(k) retirement plan.

Erica McIntosh is Senior Regional Editor for Southern Connecticut. Erica was born and raised in Connecticut.

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