Parked yellow school bus
Credit: Pexels

School bus drivers are on strike in the northwest Georgia city of Dalton, leaving parents and school officials scrambling to take students to and from school.

Bus drivers began manning picket lines on Monday, attacking what they say are anti-union actions by First Student, the Cincinnati-based company that contracts with Dalton schools to run buses.

The district taught its 7,500 students online on Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday, it held class in person but ran buses for only two of its 10 schools, where students were taking state-mandated tests. District officials asked parents to bring students to other schools. Beginning Thursday, the district plans to offer a limited number of drop-off sites in neighborhoods.

Chris Crowe, vice president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1212, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that 53 bus drivers in the district are members of the union, and as many as 40 were actively manning picket lines on Monday. First Student said 20 bus drivers had crossed picket lines and were driving buses with police protection.

The company and union have been bargaining over wages, vacation time and insurance. First Student on Monday called it "extremely unfortunate" that employees continue to strike amid bargaining.

It's illegal for public employees to bargain collectively or strike in Georgia, but those rules don't apply to drivers for private school bus companies.

The union filed legal charges with the National Labor Relations Board last week accusing First Student of breaking labor laws. Crowe said First Student illegally retaliated against drivers negotiating for the union. He also said First Student illegally told drivers they couldn't talk about the union at work and took down notices about the union from the bus drivers' bulletin board.

"Our drivers are dedicated to transporting the kids safely back and forth from their homes to school," Crowe told the Chattanooga newspaper. "They love their jobs and want to keep working but can't because they've been mistreated. They've got to take a stand for what's right."