First Student to negotiate with bus drivers - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

First Student to negotiate with bus drivers

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

First Student bus company said they plan to negotiate a contract that will please more than 500 of their bus drivers in Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.

Those drivers rallied Wednesday demanding to be paid year round by the bus company since they can no longer apply for unemployment during the summer months.

Georgia lawmakers voted to eliminate some school workers' unemployment benefits that will go into effect 2015.  

First Student regional manager said these rallies are nothing new. Their drivers are part of the Teamsters union, and First Student has had to negotiate contracts with them twice in the last eight years.

"We can see your greedy side," yelled drivers.

Many drivers rallied outside the gates of First Student, chanting for change in their new contract.

Thanks to a change in state law, some contracted school workers like bus drivers are no longer eligible to collect unemployment during the summer months. Now the bus drivers are asking First Student to pay them all year.

"It really is important that somebody has got to think about stretching us through the summer," said driver Sonny Hansen.  

In 2012, the Department of Labor abruptly mandated this change without much notice. Many drivers were unable to collect unemployment that summer, but state lawmakers reversed that sudden change. 

Now it will go in effect next year, but many of these drivers remember what it was like being without a paycheck.

"[Some of us] went on food stamps, we had to apply for public assistance and many got pink slips," said driver Edith Dunlap.

A First Student regional manager said they have not started negotiating yet, but they may be able to negotiate a pro-rated contract that will spread their paychecks out over 12 months.

Some drivers say that may not be enough.

"I don't think that's very good, you're taking a lot from a person every week," said Hansen.  

Hansen said he doesn't want to spread his current paycheck out, he wants additional pay in the summer and he's willing to work for it.

"There's buses to be cleaned, there's stuff at schools that could be done," said Hansen.  

Negotiations between First Student and Teamsters are expected to begin in June. They have until the end of August to come up with a new contract.

If they don't have a new one, drivers said they could strike at the beginning of the school year.

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