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School bus company, union reach accord; threatened strike is off

Baumann and Sons and Acme Bus Corp. on

Baumann and Sons and Acme Bus Corp. on Veterans Memorial Highway on Monday on Sept. 7, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

A Ronkonkoma school bus company and the leadership of its workers' union announced late Monday night -- just two days after a narrow majority of workers voted to strike -- that they have reached a tentative contract agreement, preventing a work stoppage that would have affected roughly 35 districts across Long Island.

Officials with Baumann & Sons Buses Inc., its affiliate Acme Bus Corp. and Teamsters Local 1205 issued a joint statement saying they have reached a new collective bargaining agreement that will expire June 30, 2018.

The new deal -- if ratified by union members -- will put an end to six weeks of stress affecting the families and school districts of the 15,000 children Baumann and Acme transport daily.

"I am pleased with the end result of all our hard work," union president Timothy Lynch said in a statement.

"It provides many improvements to the membership's terms and conditions of employment, while at the same time attempting to address the legitimate needs of the business," Lynch said. "With the final changes that were agreed upon today, I can confidently recommend ratification of this tentative agreement."

Union members still must vote on the tentative agreement, which Lynch said will take place by the end of this week at the company's facilities. Workers sought higher pay, increased contributions to health and other benefits, and better working conditions.

Negotiations started in May. The previous contract expired June 30. The labor dispute intensified in late August, when Lynch notified school districts that a strike was imminent. It reached a crescendo in the past two days, as a nine-vote majority (302-293) on Saturday rejected the contract and approved a strike. Despite the outcome of the vote, Lynch had declined to say when workers would strike, leaving school districts and parents in a state of ongoing uncertainty.

The next day, Baumann and Acme's attorney, Glenn Smith, wrote an email to Lynch saying the company would not sweeten the proposal any further. He also called for a new vote and warned that officials would pull the final contract offer if workers went on strike. Smith argued that not enough union members voted -- 595 out of an estimated 1,035 who work for the company -- and that the narrow margin didn't reflect broad support for a strike.

Lynch maintained that the voting process was fair and legitimate, and that the union had the authority to strike "if and when" it chose to.

Late Sunday he told Newsday that after conversations with Smith he had reason to believe the two parties could still find a resolution. After talks Monday, they reached a deal endorsed by federal mediator Ralph Quattrocchi that included changes to the proposed contract. He declined to detail those changes until members had a chance to review the proposed contract.

"It is time to move forward so that Baumann & Sons Buses Inc./Acme Bus Corp. can continue to provide safe and secure service to our customers and the students we provide transportation for," company president Ron Baumann said in the statement.

"We are thankful for the patience of our employees, the public and our customers for seeing this process to a fair resolution," Baumann said.

Baumann officials said the conflict has cost them $1 million in lost revenue from canceled contracts.

Officials for Baumann said the final offer would have had the company spending 12 percent to 14 percent more on employee costs, including benefits and raises starting in the second and third years of a three-year contract for most workers.

"The parties worked together to find solutions, to address the difficulties of this business, and to resolve differences," Lynch said in the joint statement.

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