News - Joliet and Will County

Will County school buses will continue to roll following strike threat

Teamsters: ‘It’s a good contract, it’s a solid contract.’

Teacher Kathy Ramsay directs students off the bus as they arrive on the first day of school at Woodland Elementary School in Joliet. Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Joliet.

An agreement was reached between First Student and Teamsters Local 179 in Joliet, averting a potential bus driver walkout.

On Wednesday afternoon, Theresa Rouse, superintendent of District 86, sent the following message to District 86 parents:

“Great news! First Student bus drivers approved a new contract,” Rouse wrote. “Our bus routes will continue to run as scheduled. Thank you to all our bus drivers who work tirelessly to get students to and from school safely.”

Sandy Zalewski, spokesperson for District 86, said 4,168 district students ride a First Student bus.

Tom Hernandez, spokesperson for District 202 in Plainfield, echoed Rouse’s sentiments.

“This is good news, obviously,” Hernandez said. “We hope that everybody got what they wanted. We’re mostly happy that our students and families will continue to receive appropriate transportation services.”

Chaney-Monge School District 88, Will County School District 92 and Elwood Community Consolidated School District 203 also work with First Student bus drivers.

Earlier in the week, these districts alerted families to the possibility of the strike and suggested families make other transportation arrangements for the students, just in case.

Tom Flynn, president and business manager of Teamsters Local 179 in Joliet, said everyone appears happy with the agreement: First Student, Teamsters 179, the parents, the district, the drivers.

“It’s a good contract. It’s a solid contract,” Flynn said. “I think it’s a good offer, and it overwhelmingly passed.”

Flynn said more than 200 drivers voted Wednesday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the break room of First Student in Crest Hill after members finished their routes. He feels that contributed to an 80% turnout.

“Most of the time you have to come to the union hall to vote,” Flynn said. “When you have it right at the facility, you should expect a good turnout.”

Flynn said Monday that the union and First Student have been in negotiations for months. Pay was one of the issues, Flynn said. A strike would have affected about 350 bus drivers in Will County, Flynn said.

He said the new agreement brings “gains across the board” in wages, retirement and “some small gains in insurance.”

“They really don’t have a lot of insurance,” Flynn said.

Flynn said Teamsters 179 and First Student have been together since 2008. Flynn said he organized the unions at the Crest Hill and Naperville locations.

“And we’ve never had a labor unrest,” Flynn said. “We’ve always gotten our issues resolved. We’ve never had a strike here. And I’m glad to see we are continuing to do that.”

Flynn said First Student is “a good company and they treat their people well.” But with the shortage of school bus drivers, the union saw an opportunity to improve things for the bus drivers, Flynn said.

“I’m glad that there is peace and they’ll be a continuation of school,” Flynn said. “We’ve missed enough school because of [COVID-19]. We don’t need to miss anymore.”

Jen Biddinger, spokesperson for First Student, agreed.

“We look forward to getting back to focusing fully on what we do best, providing safe and reliable transportation for our school district partners and their families,” Biddinger said in a written statement.

A student carries a themed backpack as he heads to class on the first day of school at Woodland Elementary School in Joliet. Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Joliet.