Photo: Some bus drivers for Chicago Public Schools ratified a union contract that raises wages, has new insurance coverage and makes Super Bowl Sunday a paid holiday. (Linda Girardi/The Beacon-News)

Article adopted from the Chicago Tribune, February 7, 2018, authored by Ally Marotti.

There are many parts of First Student school bus drivers’ new union contract that excite 11-year bus driver Sammie Sledge. Not least among them: Super Bowl Sunday is now a paid holiday.

“Super Bowl Sunday, baby,” said Sledge, just after he had pulled into the bus company’s Chicago base Wednesday after running his morning routes. “How about that?”

Sledge and his colleagues at First Student, who mostly cover routes for Chicago Public Schools, voted to join Teamsters Local 777 in November, and this week they ratified their first union contract. It includes paid funeral leave, new vision and life insurance coverage, and wage increases, among other benefits.

The contract covers about 115 employees. They joined hundreds of First Student school bus workers already represented by Teamsters Local 777 around the country. Since the Teamsters had already negotiated with Cincinnati-based First Student, this union group was able to reach a deal pretty quickly, said Jim Glimco, President of Local 777.

The contract will help ensure the drivers are adequately paid for their skills, Glimco said. Making Super Bowl Sunday a paid holiday was a cherry on top for workers and had a benefit for First Student

“To get paid for a holiday, you always have to work the day before a holiday and the day after,” Glimco said. “This ensures that everyone shows up the day after Super Bowl Sunday.”

Bob Rutkoski, area general manager for First Student, took credit for the idea. The extra day of pay has become popular in contracts he negotiates. It keeps workers from playing hooky, and they love the extra pay, Rutkoski said. “(They) get six days pay for five days of work,” he said.

“To get paid for a holiday, you always have to work the day before a holiday and the day after. This ensures that everyone shows up the day after Super Bowl Sunday.”  -Jim Glimco, President of Teamsters Local 777

First Student expanded its operations in Chicago last year when it acquired locally based Falcon Transportation. It has about 4,000 employees working in Northern Illinois, Glimco said. Three out of four employees are union members, he said.

The company says on its website that it moves more passengers per day than all U.S. airlines combined. And those passengers are precious cargo, Glimco said.

“If you’re responsible for 60, 70 kids, parents place a lot of trust in that driver,” he said. The contract also gives drivers the right to refuse to operate a bus with a safety issue.

The union contract is vital for the bus drivers, said Sledge, who served on the negotiating committee. The wage increases some employees received will help improve their lives.

“I think we really got a good deal,” he said.

Teamsters Local 777 is an affiliate of Teamsters Joint Council 25, America’s premier labor union for Chicago, Illinois and northwest Indiana.

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