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Minneapolis school bus drivers threaten strike

Minneapolis and many school districts across the state are grappling with driver shortages that are causing scheduling problems for districts and students returning to school.

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School buses sit idle at Bille Bus Transportation in Northeast Minneapolis on Thursday. Anthony Souffle / Star Tribune / TNS
Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune
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MINNEAPOLIS — A union representing nearly 100 Minneapolis school bus drivers said its members voted unanimously to go on strike if their demands over pay and working conditions are not met.

The Teamsters Local 320 spokesman, Brian Aldes, said in a statement that the Minneapolis School District has not offered its seasonal employees adequate compensation as drivers and dispatchers are being asked to work longer hours, drive more routes, and drive buses that are over capacity.

"If the district doesn't increase its economic offer and address the other significant issues we've put on the bargaining table, we have been authorized to engage in a full-scale work stoppage with active picket lines and ambulatory pickets at the schools," Aldes wrote.

The district has so far offered a raise of 11 cents per hour, according to Aldes.

The union and the district have a Dec. 1 mediation session scheduled. Drivers and dispatchers cannot legally go on strike until at least 45 days after the mediation session.

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The Minneapolis Public School district issued a statement on Facebook, calling bus drivers "critical partners" in the schools.

"We are committed to reaching an agreement through the mediation process and are working to ensure that bus service for students is not interrupted. MPS is making every effort to resolve the collective-bargaining agreement with Local 320," the statement concluded.

Minneapolis and many school districts across the state are grappling with driver shortages that are causing scheduling problems for districts and students returning to school. St. Paul Public Schools was forced into last-minute route cancellations and Minneapolis schools started offering incentives to families who drive their own students to school.

School bus drivers and their unions have been increasing pressure on school officials and state legislators to act quickly. In September, drivers and union leaders said the yearslong struggle to fill bus driver jobs has reached a breaking point. On top of longstanding challenges like pay and irregular hours, they said many drivers have opted out of the field because of COVID-19-related health concerns, more frequent schedule shifts and other pandemic-related complications.

©2021 StarTribune. Visit startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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