At least one Seattle school-bus driver appeared to cross picket lines Wednesday morning in South Park, driving through a line of striking drivers as one person jumped onto the vehicle hood.
Several other strikers claimed they were hit by the bus, but police say no one appeared to have been injured.
The drivers, members of Teamsters Local 174, were gathered at the First Student bus depot in South Seattle when the drama erupted at the beginning of a one-day strike.
Teamsters spokeswoman Jamie Fleming said the driver crossed the picket line and drove her bus through a group of picketers. They called Seattle police after the incident. No one was injured but union members were shaken, she said.
“(The driver) has the right to do that, but they don’t have the right to drive over people,” Fleming said.
Seattle Police Department spokesman Patrick Michaud said officers are investigating what had been reported as a hit-and-run incident.
Reporters at the scene, including from Q13 and KING 5, shot video showing one person jumping onto the hood of a bus as it was driven out of the lot, although the driver’s motivations were unclear.
Michaud said it is not clear whether a crime has been committed, but said no one appears to have been injured and officers are out “monitoring the situation.”
The one-day strike, about health and retirement benefits the 400 drivers say Ohio-based First Student promised to address last year, left about 12,000 students without a bus ride to school on Wednesday.
The strike was called by the Teamsters Local 174, which represents the district’s drivers. Union leaders said they could call for a longer strike if an agreement isn’t reached with First Student. The contract with the bus-operator company calls for continuous service and the district has threatened to seek damages of $1.2 million for each day of interrupted service.
Bus driver Olivia Moore said Wednesday that she has cancer but doesn’t qualify for First Student’s medical plan because she works slightly less than 30 hours a week. She would like to work more hours but says she’s low on the seniority list after working for two school years. She’s been going to community health centers for treatment, she said.
“I’ve been relying on my union to make sure I’ll still be here for the kids,” said Moore, who drives bus routes from Washington Middle and Montlake Elementary schools.
Her favorite part of her job is seeing the kids in the afternoon. One girl has been mercilessly bullied, Moore said, and when she’s had a good day she tells Moore all about it.
“I love it,” she said. “I’m missing them today.”
First Student said it offered union leaders additional funding for health care and retirement in the past few weeks during the talks that began in June. But Fleming, the Teamsters spokeswoman, said none of those proposals has been “even close to sufficient.”
First Student is in the first year of a three-year contract with Seattle Public Schools that’s worth at least $27 million a year.
During labor discussions last year, the union said, First Student promised to negotiate driver benefits. At the time, the contractor increased its entry-level wage for bus drivers to $18 per hour but didn’t extend health-care benefits to any driver who works less than 30 hours per week.
When First Student’s latest contract expired in August, the school district sought proposals from other contractors. First Student was the only one to respond.
It’s not the first time local drivers have sparred with First Student over benefits; in 2014 they threatened to strike over sick leave and health care.
Dana Bland, 63, has driven buses in the Seattle area for 30 years. First Student has had the worst medical plan of the several contractors he’s worked for, he said. In 2013, he had to file for bankruptcy because he couldn’t afford his medical bills after a four-day stay at Swedish Medical Center.
“They pay for an office visit and a physical,” he said. “That’s it.”