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School bus driver strike leaves 9,000 students without a ride to school

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HARTFORD -- Thousands of students who attend Hartford Public Schools had to find alternative means of transportation to school Tuesday due to a one-day strike by their bus company.

Preliminary information shows that 83 percent of K-12 students were in attendance on Tuesday, when typically attendance sits at around 92 percent.

Bus drivers for DATTCO, which is the primary bus company that serves Hartford Public Schools, went on strike Tuesday in response to contract negotiations, but are expected to be back to work on Wednesday. There is an ongoing dispute between DATTCO and the bus drivers' union, CSEA/SEIU Local 2001.

A spokesperson for the union, Ben Phillips, said they tried to avoid a strike. Union members turned down an agreement last week. Phillips said requests for meetings with DATTCO since then have been denied.

"What's at issue right now is that these drivers have had their hours cut repeatedly over the last few years to the point where many of them are struggling to make ends meet," said Phillips, spokesperson for CSEA/SEIU Local 2001.

Phillips added, "Hopefully [the strike] will encourage them to make some movement toward the kind of agreement that we need."

DATTCO services approximately 9,000 students, who were impacted by the strike. About 21,000 total students are enrolled in Hartford Public Schools.

Hartford Schools said all of those students absent because they don't have alternative means of getting to school will be excused from class, but classes were not canceled. Any students who are transported by other bus companies was not be excused.

Here is a statement from Hartford Public Schools:

DATTCO, our bus transportation provider, has informed us that due to a one-day work stoppage against the company there will be no bus service from DATTCO for students who are residents of Hartford on Tuesday, May 17th.

Students that are not able to attend school due to lack of bus services from DATTCO are excused from class for their absence on this day.

Suburban magnet school students and special education students that receive door-to-door service will not be impacted by this stoppage. Transportation for suburban magnet school students and special education students that receive door-to-door service will proceed under normal operating hours.

We are disappointed that this bus provider and its drivers have been unable to reach an agreement to avoid this unnecessary interruption of transportation services. Further updates will be provided.

DATTCO's bus service is scheduled to resume normal operations by Wednesday, May 18th.

The strike follows a previous protest in April. More than a dozen protesters held signs at the bus yard in response to what they called unfair treatment. The drivers said they make much less money than drivers from other bus yards in other towns.

DATTCO released a statement on Monday regarding the strike:

DATTCO is extremely disappointed in the actions of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001, who today has apparently chosen to ignore the protocol of good faith bargaining by urging drivers to not report to work on May 17, 2016. By doing so, they have placed their union’s agenda ahead of the safety of the school children of the Hartford Public Schools. We consider this to be a careless and selfish act, and not in the best interest of our loyal and professional employees, or the Hartford Public Schools.

DATTCO respects the collective bargaining process. Over a month ago, we reached an agreement with CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 that provided significant increases in benefits and pay to our Hartford-based drivers. We just learned that our drivers have rejected this agreement and we are extremely disappointed in the actions of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 to call a work stoppage. Upon learning of the rejection of the agreement, we immediately contacted the Federal mediator and scheduled another negotiating session later this week. Even though our current contract with the Hartford Board of Education expires on June 30 of this year we do not feel it is responsible to agree to additional pay and benefits - especially pay for hours not worked - that would increase the cost of school bus transportation in the City of Hartford for the next five years.

Nevertheless, DATTCO will continue to bargain in good faith, under the guidance of the National Labor Relations Board protocol for collective bargaining, and urges all drivers to return to work. We look forward to continued negotiations, and to reaching an agreement that meets the needs of our company, our drivers, and the community. We apologize to the families of Hartford who have been adversely affected by the actions undertaken today by CSEA/SEIU Local 2001.