Miami-Dade school district officials say they don’t expect a repeat of Friday’s transportation turmoil caused by the absence of hundreds of drivers who skipped work amid labor tensions.
As many as 242 bus drivers out of 1,300 shirked their routes, many calling in sick. That left a number of the 60,000 students who take a school bus to class waiting at bus stops, and caused parents and administrators to scramble to get them to and from school.
The many driver absences were blamed on frustrations over a 17 percent spike in their healthcare costs that kicked in Jan. 1 and for many coincided with few hours worked over the winter break. The rise in cost, due in part to the newly activated Affordable Care Act, also came amid stalled contract talks with their union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Union leaders said the apparent “sickout” wasn’t planned, as public employee strikes are illegal in Florida. But some parents worried that there would be more of the same on Monday, when American Senior High happens to be hosting the state’s first lady, Ann Scott.
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The district vowed to work through the weekend to ensure Friday’s apparent protests wouldn’t spill over into the following week.
On Sunday evening, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced that he and his staff met during the day with union leaders after holding conversations Saturday. They agreed to prioritize safe busing for students and to fast-track negotiations that have included discussions of higher wages and cheaper benefits, according to a district news release.
The union’s roughly 6,000 employees also received automated phone calls from the district relaying the message that they’re valuable employees. “We know you will be at work every day because you are consummate professionals and you care about the children you serve,” the message stated.