Chicopee School Bus Drivers Win Raises With Union

School bus drivers in Chicopee, Massachusetts, approved a union contract last month that will bring their wages to more than $24 an hour by the end of the five-year agreement. Chicopee is a suburb of Springfield. “Considering the current economy, this was a major victory,” said Dan Clifford, secretary-treasurer of UFCW Local 1459, the drivers’ union.

The contract covers about 110 workers. The drivers transport Chicopee public school students but they work for First Student Corporation, which has more than 10,000 employees and is a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based FirstGroup Corporation.

The company offered no raises for the Chicopee drivers. The workers then voted 71 to 2 in favor of going on strike if the company didn’t improve its offer. Ultimately, they settled on three percent annual raises every year for five years. The contract also includes health insurance.

Until now, there has been no media coverage of the agreement, Clifford said.

Rose Falconer lives in Ludlow, another Springfield suburb. She was a school bus driver for 47 years until she retired three years ago. She was an active member of Local 1459. “The union helped us a lot,” she said. “Driving a bus is a hard job. You want to be on time picking up every kid in the morning so they’re not standing in the cold. The school departments look down on the drivers.”

When Falconer started driving school busses in the 1960s in Ludlow, male drivers were paid more than female drivers. “When we organized the union and got our first contract, we all got paid the same,” she said.

Local 1459 is based in Springfield and represents about 850 school bus drivers, plus grocery store workers and other workers. More information is available at www.ufcw1459.com

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