The Ottumwa Courier

Education

October 10, 2013

School bus strike avoided

OTTUMWA — Kids continue to see the yellow school buses pick them up. But many parents know about talk of a possible "disruption in service" and that negotiations between the bus drivers' union and the bus company had stalled.

"We have come to an agreement, but it hasn't been signed," said Jerry Kjer, co-owner of Southern Iowa Transit, which is a contracted company working for, among other clients, the Ottumwa school district. "There's some 'Ts' that need to be crossed, that kind of thing, but I'm feeling confident."

At some points over the past several months, management and union leaders were butting heads. At a school board meeting, a union official asked the board of education to "encourage" bus company management to settle with the drivers.

It's unlikely that the recent improvement in relations came from school district pressure, however.

"The board, I think, believed that it's not their role to influence negotiations in a private company," said school district Superintendent Davis Eidahl, who was at that meeting.

That day, Jon Thomas, a Teamsters Local 238 business agent, warned the board that a disruption in services could occur, and that such unpleasantness would affect a large portion of the city, not just the schools.

But, he said, that's not what the union and the drivers wanted. At the time, however, he said they were feeling frustrated, as though management just wasn't listening.

"When we (union and management representatives) met in July, it was not a good experience. But in September, we both said, 'Enough of the bad talk about each other. Enough of the negative [feelings].' Both sides really did, in the 11th hour, come to the table with the intention of coming to an agreement."

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