MEDLEY (CBSMiami) – Miami-Dade School district officials said Sunday they don’t expect a repeat of Friday’s bus fiasco which left plenty of South Florida parents up in arms after learning their children had not been picked up by their school buses due to the bus driver sickout.
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho and district administrators held conversations with the executive leadership of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) on Saturday, and the groups met face-to-face on Sunday.
According to school officials, the school district and union leaders agreed that the priorities for both groups would be the safe, secure, timely transportation of school students, and expediting collective bargaining efforts in the next few days to explore salary increases and the mitigation of health care insurance costs.
Automated telephone messages are being sent to parents to keep them apprised of developments and offer them assistance and contacts, if needed.
Messages are also being sent to all AFSCME employees to encourage their attendance to work on Monday, saying “This is a message from Miami-Dade County Public Schools. You are a valuable member of the M-DCPS family. We understand your frustration. We remain willing and able to go back to the bargaining table with your union to hopefully reach an agreement which will resolve your concerns with salary and health insurance costs. We know you will be at work every day because you are consummate professionals and you care about the children you serve.”
On Friday morning, children were not picked up by their school buses due to the bus driver sickout.
Miami-Dade County school bus drivers were angry and upset they had not reached a contract agreement with the school district which has imposed cuts in their take home pay. Drivers saw increases in their health insurance premiums.
One driver told CBS4’s Gary Nelson her check was slashed nearly $200.
More than twice the usual number of drivers called in sick Friday, something the union said it does not support but can easily understand.
“The superintendent told us that we were family. Well I don’t feel like we’re family when these workers have not had a raise in 5 to 6 years. There have been budget cuts, ask them to do more, retired people doing the jobs of two people,” said Byron Houghtaling from the bus drivers’ union.
The school district said if the union wants a deal, it needs to bargain in good faith.
Dozens of drivers showed up at the Miami-Dade County bus depot, located at 9900 NW S. River Drive in Medley, Friday to complain about their paychecks.
As for the sickout, the district said some routes were delayed Friday but none were cancelled.
One group of students from Robert Morgan Senior High School was never picked up from their stop in Country Walk early Friday.
In addition, Coral Reef Senior High sent an automated voice mail and email to parents that read, “Due to unforeseen circumstances, please be advised that school bus transportation may be delayed on Friday, January 10, 2014.”
One person wrote on CBSMiami’s Twitter Wall, “My child had no transportation to school today!”
Drivers were threatening a massive sickout in protest of the benefit cuts which the union said it does not condone and the school system said would be illegal because Florida law bars striking by public employees. The school system would view the sickout as a strike.
The district said automated phone calls and emails will be sent to parents on Monday to inform them if their child’s bus will be running late or cancelled. Parents should make plans to drive their children to school and have them picked up.
School Board Member Carlos Curbelo condemned the AFSCME strike in a statement Friday afternoon.
“Using children and putting their safety at risk is not an acceptable negotiation tactic. It is shameful and reprehensible. I call upon the Superintendent and his team to take swift action to address the conduct of the AFSCME union members that abandoned our students this morning. Our children and their families do not deserve this.”
Miami-Dade County Public Schools transports approximately 60,000 students a day and operates 1,050 school bus routes using a fleet of 1,300 school buses. It’s not known exactly how many bus drivers were boycotting Friday or how many planned to take part in Monday’s threatened sick out.
If you have any questions regarding your child’s school bus transportation, please call the individual school.