Mayor Elorza speaks on end of bus drivers’ strike

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Providence school bus drivers head back to work Monday, after spending 11 days on the picket line demanding a pension plan – settling for a direct contribution retirement plan.

“It was a major, major headache,” explained Mayor Jorge Elorza (D-Providence) on Sunday. He worked with the teamsters union and First Student bus company to try to speed along a deal, which was eventually reached Saturday night. “We’ve been working really hard to bring the two sides together, so I’m excited that that happened,” he said.

The bus company provides service to roughly 9,000 students. Families had to find alternate transportation to and from school for their kids during the strike.

The process was anything but speedy, taking just over two weeks total – with its share of drama.

On day one, a middle school girl who usually rides the bus was hit by a car while riding a bike. Days later, the ACLU threatens legal action on behalf of students with disabilities.

The mayor eventually threw around his weight, saying he would pull back added incentives if both sides did not come to a deal by Friday. Then Thursday night, a fire broke out at the bus yard. (The cause is still under investigation.) A tentative deal was reached Friday evening, then the plan was ratified Saturday night.

“We stayed focused, we knew what we wanted. We fought for it and we got it,” said Union Steward Jan August, following the nearly unanimous vote.

“I’m still very disappointed that in a dispute between a private party and a union, that the kids were put in the middle,” Elorza said Sunday. “Ultimately it’s the kids and the families that suffer.”

© WLNE-TV 2018