Federal mediation was put on hold early Thursday morning between a major Long Island school bus contractor and its drivers -- a situation closely watched by school districts and parents whose children ride the company's vehicles to get to and from school.
Teamsters Local 1205 and Ronkonkoma-based Baumann & Sons Buses Inc. and its affiliate, Acme Buses, plan to reconvene at 4 p.m. Thursday to continue negotiations, union president Timothy Lynch said.
The talks Wednesday were held at the union's office in Farmingdale. The 11-hour session broke up shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday.
Officials estimate the company provides transportation in about 35 districts across Nassau and Suffolk counties -- along with the BOCES centers, special education centers and private and parochial schools to which those districts by law must supply student transit.
The effect of a strike would be uneven, as some districts -- such as Commack -- contract with Baumann/Acme for all student transportation, while others use only a few of the company's buses.
The company declined Wednesday to provide its client list, saying the officials with that information were in the midst of the mediation talks.
The issue has had some parents worried and scrambling to find alternative transportation, should the negotiations fall apart.
The affected school districts, meanwhile, began to assemble contingency plans.
Many special-needs students and special education students travel on the private company's smaller buses and vans.
Company officials said Baumann/Acme has 800 small buses and vans and 200 buses. It employs 776 drivers and 406 drivers' assistants, who ride on vehicles that carry special-needs students. The firm also has 65 mechanics.
More than 90 percent of the employees work part-time, averaging 25 to 30 hours per week, said Jim Poisella Jr., the company's human resources director.
The union is seeking more pay and better working conditions. Lynch said hundreds of workers make $11 an hour to $13 an hour and that the company has been inflexible on pay increases.
Baumann/Acme issued a statement late Tuesday, saying that hourly pay for experienced drivers and assistants ranges from $14.05 to $22.90, and mechanics make more than $24 per hour.