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Strike looms after school bus drivers reject contract offer

About 290 Halifax school bus drivers could be headed for a strike after they voted overwhelmingly against the latest contract offer from Stock Transportation.

Parents of the 23,000 Halifax-area students who bus to school should start making plans to cope with a school bus strike.

Wednesday morning, 290 drivers, monitors and mechanics with Stock Transportation voted 98 per cent against the company’s last offer. They could be on strike by Jan. 26, if no last-minute deal is reached.

Nearly half of the board’s 52,000 students are bused to school.

Stock offered three per cent raises every year for three years. That would leave a bus driver with three years’ experience making just over $14 an hour by the end of the contract, according to NSGEU president Joan Jessome.

The union wants $1 hourly raises each year, to $18 an hour by 2012 for drivers.

“They’re the lowest-paid bus drivers in the province,” Jessome said.

“There’s no pension, no RSP’s, very little medical, no dental. They’re not bloated, by any stretch,” he said, adding that one 19-year veteran driver makes less now than she did before privatization.

John Turney, regional vice-president for Stock, says the company can’t afford to pay more than three per cent because it’s locked into a five-year, $60 million contract with the Halifax Regional School Board until June 2011.

A strike is a “real possibility,” Turney said.

“The number one priority is to transport students safely. Without the drivers, mechanics and monitors, we don’t feel we can do that,” Turney said.

“It would be prudent for parents to make alternate arrangements.”

Halifax Regional School Board spokesman Doug Hadley said the board can’t bus kids to school without Stock.

Schools will stay open if there’s a bus strike, he said. Parents who can’t find another way to get their children to class can talk to principals and teachers to keep their children up to date on schoolwork.

The two sides have been negotiating since last February.

 
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