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Dattco reports Westport school bus drivers agree to new contract

Published 6:20 pm, Saturday, October 6, 2012
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Westport school bus drivers have voted to ratify a four-year contract, averting a strike that loomed last Monday morning.

Dattco Transportation, the school system's school bus provider, announced Saturday afternoon that drivers represented by United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 317, approved the contract unanimously.

Details of the pact, however, were not immediately available, according to Dattco. But school officials have said previously any new wage-and-benefits pact between Dattco and its drivers should not affect the existing contract with Westport schools.

"I anticipate that the contract will continue to be honored as is," Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said last week of the schools' five-year contract with Dattco, which expires in June 2015.

An 11th-hour "cooling-off" agreement last Sunday night to extend bargaining on the new contract had averted a threatened bus driver strike, which was threatened to take effect 12:01 a.m. Oct. 1.

The 75 Westport drivers represented by United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 317, had voted earlier Sept. 30 to reject the latest contract offer from Dattco and to walk off the job at the start of classes early the next day.

But at the request of the Federal Mediation Conciliation Service, both sides agreed to continue talks and the strike was put on hold.

In the meantime, a federal mediator was called in to help forge an agreement.

"There are major issues that we're trying to work out, and there's some really good hard work being done, and we're happy to still be at the table," said Cliff Gibson, Dattco's chief operating officer, said when the cooling-off period was agreed to. "We're glad that the union feels the same way, and we appreciate the services of the federal mediator at this point."

"I'm very confident that the management of Dattco and the union are honestly looking for a solution to the crisis," Landon said last week once the walkout was averted. "I'm very hopeful that there will not be a strike."

When a strike had looked imminent, Landon in an email to parents had said schools would still operate on the usual schedule and suggested they organize car pools to get students to and from classes.