School bus service in Hartford will resume tomorrow - WFSB 3 Connecticut

School bus service in Hartford will resume tomorrow

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Bus drivers protest on Tuesday (WFSB) Bus drivers protest on Tuesday (WFSB)
Bus drivers gathered for a protest in front of the Dattco bus lot in Hartford Tuesday morning. (WFSB photo) Bus drivers gathered for a protest in front of the Dattco bus lot in Hartford Tuesday morning. (WFSB photo)
Protesting Dattco drivers attempt to prevent a bus from leaving early Tuesday morning. (WFSB photo) Protesting Dattco drivers attempt to prevent a bus from leaving early Tuesday morning. (WFSB photo)
HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) -

A dispute between the DATTCO Bus Company and its union drivers left thousands of Hartford school children without a ride to school on Tuesday.

Dozens of union members began the one-day work stoppage just after 5 a.m. following a stall of contract talks.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said if the stoppage lasts more than a day, the city will jump in and look for a new bus company. He said they were in negotiations.

He said his decision was based on the fact that the children suffer and need to be in the classroom.

DATTCO said school bus services for Hartford Public Schools will resume normal operations on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, bus drivers said they are frustrated, saying they want more hours and higher wages.

"Because they're trying to decrease the hours we do have, and that's not fair," said Stacy-Ann Barrett.

Bus drivers said they're only slated for 20 hours, and want a minimum of 25, and that they have been without a contract since August.

"It's not easy. This is a lot, I mean no one wants to be standing out here doing this. We just want to negotiate and go on back to our business and do what we have to do," Barrett said.

"All we are asking for is for them to be fair. We care about the children in Hartford. We just want to be able to take care of our children better," Malika Chambers said.

The protest left school children and parents stranded.

"[I'm] angry," said Doriangelyd Sanchez, a mother. "They not thinking about the children, they thinking about themselves.”

While school was still on for the day, Hartford Public Schools officials said 2,100 students in grades kindergarten through eighth were absent. It's an absenteeism rate of 15 percent.

That meant the attendance rate was 85 percent for Tuesday, which is lower than the 93 percent average.

Sanchez's son, Daniel Fernandez, wasn't able to take the bus Tuesday morning. She said she had take a long walk with him to school while pregnant.

"I don't have no choice if there’s no school bus coming, right?” Sanchez said.

Officials said one school, A.I. Prince High School, had to close for the day.

"I understand and we do care about the riders the children and the parents, we do understand," said Janipher Padgett, a protesting bus driver. "But at the same time we need a contract."

Cliff Gibson, chief operating officer of Dattco, issued a statement about it Tuesday morning.

"The actions of Local CSEA/SEIU 2001 in calling a one day work stoppage [Tuesday] in Hartford were unfortunate and regrettable. Despite months of bargaining and the reaching of a tentative agreement, union leadership sought to place their own needs about those of our employees, the children and parents of Hartford Public Schools, and the City of Hartford as a whole. Dattco has continued to come to the table, offering increases in the existing labor agreement, including wages well above industry average. In an environment where many are receiving cuts, or even job loss, the type of stance taken by union leadership seems untimely and uncaring to those who most need their employment. Dattco will continue to bargain in good faith, and has solicited the help of the federal mediator in this regard. We look forward to reaching an agreement when the next bargaining session is held."

Eyewitness News was told that nearly 100 union bus workers will be at the Dattco lot in Hartford to raise signs and shout their frustrations over the contract conflict.

A few drivers did show up for work. Workers were seen attempting to block one bus from leaving the lot early Tuesday morning.

However, police intervened and the bus left.

Frustrated drivers said they are holding the stoppage because of how Dattco is handling the talks.

"Because we do care about the students, we procrastinated, but we cannot wait any longer," Padgett said. "School is almost over."

School officials began reaching out to parents on Monday afternoon to let them know about the lack of buses. However, many expected that some who didn't get the message would try to send their children to school anyway.

The buses weren't there to pick them up.

Union members called it a result of poor benefits and cuts to their hours.

They said a tentative agreement was reached, but many workers felt it was a weak one.

Parents and students told Eyewitness News that the stoppage upset them.

Dattco's statement from Monday had some strong words about the work stoppage.

"They have placed their unions agenda ahead of the safety of the school children of the Hartford Public Schools," the statement read. "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."

The drivers said they respected the city's noise ordinance. They waited until 8 a.m. to hold up their signs and begin the bulk of the protest.

They said they hope to be driving the buses again by Wednesday, but it depends on how both sides come together.

On Tuesday, Hartford Public School released a statement that said "We expect DATTCO and its drivers to solve their differences without further disruption for the remainder of the school year,” said schools Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez. “DATTCO’s contract will expire at the end of this school year. We are evaluating their performance and this breach of contract as we decide whether we will continue to work with this company or move forward with another vendor.”

The union members are expected to meet this Friday with the hopes of getting a new contract.

There has been no word from Gov. Dannel Malloy regarding the work stoppage.

Copyright 2016 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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