PALMER — The school bus worker strike in Mat-Su that’s stretched for more than a month could end Monday if a new contract is ratified over the weekend.
Durham School Services and Teamsters Local 959 issued a joint statement Thursday saying they had reached a tentative contract agreement after about six hours of negotiations, which resumed Thursday after more than two weeks without bargaining. Union members, who include not only bus drivers but also monitors and attendants, will meet over the weekend to vote on the tentative contract.
If the contract is ratified, striking workers could go back to work as early as next week, both sides say.
The Mat-Su School Board in 2021 approved a 10-year contract for Durham worth at least $188 million and as much as $220 million to take over from longtime bus provider First Student. Drivers and other bus employees have been working without an updated contract since Durham took over in August.
Teamsters on the picket line cited pay and safety issues, including unaddressed mechanical problems, unheated buses and inadequate equipment for the Alaska winter, such as block heaters to warm engines in the morning. Durham touted its final offer on social media and said the block heaters were slowed by supply chain delays.
Durham has struggled to provide regular bus service since taking over the district transportation contract at the start of the school year, when a problem-plagued rollout earned community and district censure. The company has lost more than $1.7 million in revenues through January, a deficit district officials say reflects missed routes amid bus and driver shortages plus estimated damages due to service deficiencies.
Representatives from the Teamsters and Durham declined to comment Thursday evening.