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Union says Nassau school bus strike is over

Students board Baumann buses Nov. 10, 2017, in

Students board Baumann buses Nov. 10, 2017, in the Rockville Centre school district, which plans to move forward with its plan to hire a new company. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Unionized drivers ended their nearly-two-week strike Thursday affecting 20,000 students in four school districts in Nassau County, and plan to vote Friday on a proposed agreement with the Baumann & Sons Buses Inc.

“We’ve sent everybody back to work who chooses to go back to work,” Transport Workers Union Local 252 president Debra Hagan said Thursday morning.

More than 300 bus drivers, monitors and mechanics had been on strike against Baumann & Sons of Ronkonkoma, which has provided service for the Baldwin, Freeport, Hicksville and Rockville Centre districts.

News of the agreement emerged Thursday, after talks broke off Wednesday night at the end of a four-hour negotiation with a federal mediator — the fourth session since the job action began on Nov. 6.

The two sides agreed that a proposed contract was struck for employees to vote on, although they disagreed how that deal had come about. In a statement, issued immediately after the talks ended, company president Ronald Baumann said that 150 employees had crossed picket lines.

Baumann said the company has offered to extend the proposed contract from three to five years. “We hope that the union seriously considers the proposal to lengthen the contract for a longer period for labor peace,” Baumann said.

The drivers’ return to work caps a week that saw the four affected school districts scrambling to find other companies to cover bus routes.

And on Thursday, the status of the company’s relationship with some of the districts remained uncertain. The Baldwin, Freeport and Rockville Centre districts had all announced plans to issue formal requests for proposals for new bus company contracts.

The Rockville Centre school district on Tuesday terminated its contract with Baumann, effective 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

And on Thursday, Superintendent William Johnson said the district is moving forward with its plan to seek a new bus company.

“We’re putting the RFP out today,” he said. Oceanside-based Guardian Bus Co. is currently providing full service for the district.

“We can appreciate the fact that the workers I guess returned across the picket line and provided service, but we’re still going forward with our RFP,” Johnson said.

A spokeswoman for the Hicksville school board said Thursday that, the night before, the “board approved assignment of its transportation contract to Educational Bus Transportation (EBT), effective Monday, November 20, 2017.”

The board’s resolution was approved unanimously Wednesday night, she added.

Freeport Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said Thursday morning that the district was sticking with Baumann, for the time being. “We’re going to monitor to make sure the services are restored back fully to our satisfaction.”

Kuncham said that, while the district had issued a request for proposals seeking a new bus company, “for now, this is where we’re going to be . . . We’ll make some decisions on Monday” when transportation bids are due.

Baldwin superintendent Shari Camhi wrote on the district’s website that Baumann “will provide all normally scheduled runs” on Friday.

Hagan on Thursday talked about the terms of the proposed contract. While she said the union made some concessions, overall, “we gained in all areas — all the primary issues we went out on strike for.”

Hagan said an across-the-board wage increase also is part of the proposed agreement with a 2 percent hike for each of the three years. Also included is an increase in pay for charter-bus runs, an increase in 401(k) contributions, Hagan said, adding that one more sick day will be added for each year of the contract.

A Baumann representative did not respond to an inquiry seeking the specific terms of the proposed agreement.

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