BOSTON (CBS/AP) – Boston school bus drivers returned to work on Thursday as a dispute with their company rolled on.
Schools opened an hour early in anticipation of any possible problems, as wary city officials in Boston said they couldn’t offer any guarantees that school bus drivers who staged a surprise strike this week won’t leave students stranded again.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Karen Twomey reports
The wildcat strike Tuesday involving 600 drivers stranded about 33,000 children, who were shuttled to schools in police cars and offered free rides on public transportation.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino has expressed outrage over the strike and vowed to punish those responsible.
“We can’t let this rogue element run Boston’s public schools or the transportation issue,” he said Wednesday.
Officials from the United Steelworkers Local 8751, which represents the drivers, met with representatives from Veolia Transportation, the company contracted by the city to transport students, on Wednesday after giving the company a list of demands.
Veolia Transportation called the talks productive, but the union said discussions broke down when the company announced it suspended two union leaders with pay and said several drivers were under investigation.
“I view today as a giant step forward and we’re going to continue to move forward. And at no point do I feel things took a backwards step, but I respect the union’s opinion,” Veolia Transportation President John King said.
“The company does has to understand that its actions have ramifications. And it issued a provocation today, which as I said, unfortunately did undo a lot of the good work we thought we were accomplishing today,” Union attorney Alfred O’Connell said.
Despite the company’s actions against union leaders, the union said drivers were instructed to work.
Drivers picketing outside the bus yards Tuesday said the company was not honoring the terms of their contract. They’ve also said they’re frustrated with Veolia’s treatment of them, including changes in their health care plan, failing to provide key route information and ineffective communications.
The drivers’ union said drivers agreed to return to work Wednesday morning after Veolia agreed to meet with the union Wednesday to discuss grievances.
Students had an 82 percent attendance rate Tuesday, about 10 percent lower than a normal day, the school department said.
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