[UPDATED] Las Cruces school bus drivers striking? Not so fast.

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[UPDATED on 4/6/16. Update at bottom of post.]

Members of Las Cruces Transportation Federation Local 6341 voted to strike this week after STS-NM, a private school bus company contracted by the Las Cruces Public Schools, failed to agree to needed changes to drivers’ contracts. But late Thursday afternoon a Las Cruces district Judge issued a temporary restraining order against the union and ordered all drivers to work until at least April 12.

Drivers are not currently offered sick leave, haven’t seen a pay raise in years, and often drive overcrowded buses which threaten student and driver safety.

LCPS Superintendent Stan Rounds sought the injunction, citing concerns about kids not being able to get to school, but didn’t seem worried about them crowding into over-packed buses with drivers who may be ill but can’t afford to stay home from work. The court order disallows union members from striking, as well as picketing or demonstrating on LCPS property.

STS-NM has had since October of last year to work with the union to implement the improvements asked for by drivers.

Another factor in this story is that at least some non-union drivers have said they’d cross the picket lines if a strike were to happen. Meanwhile those drivers would also benefit from improvements sought by the union through collective bargaining. Of course this wouldn’t be possible if so-called “right to work” legislation were implemented in New Mexico. The governor and other Republican lawmakers have attempted such legislation over the last few years at the behest of powerful corporate lobbyists and donors.

aftAmerican Federation of Teachers New Mexico (AFT-NM) President Stephanie Ly and Las Cruces Transportation Federation #6341 President Marcos Torres released a statement about the injunction:

“We are disappointed the Las Cruces Public Schools Board has chosen to intervene in this matter through the courts after STS-NM chose to discontinue negotiations on March 30. We will comply with the temporary order issued today by a Las Cruces judge preventing a strike from occurring before an April 12 hearing.

“The members of LCTF #6341 will continue to use their position to advocate for 100% safety for our students and will work to ensure that all equipment utilized by STS-NM complies with the high standards set by New Mexico statute.

“We encourage all Las Cruces parents, community members, and Board members to call on STS-NM to restart negotiations with proposals for increased student safety and new policies to attract and retain the best qualified operating personnel to serve our students,” said Ly and Torres.

After months of asking for more busses and more routes to lessen the overcrowding on existing routes, drivers began picketing in front of STS-NM’s Las Cruces office on Tuesday morning.

Sporting yellow shirts and holding signs, both union drivers and non-union drivers came together to demand safer conditions on their busses for them and for students.

The picket line on Tuesday (Credit: AFT)

The picket line on Tuesday (Credit: AFT)

The demonstration was carried out only after drivers completed their routes for the day, as a district judge last week issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the drivers from striking on the job.

American Federation of Teachers and Las Cruces Transportation Federation Local 6341 have filed an injunction to have the order lifted but it appears that appeal will not be heard before next week at the earliest.

While the Las Cruces Public School Board of Directors did hold a regularly scheduled meeting last night, nothing significant about the driver situation was discussed. There is an executive, closed session meeting scheduled for this Friday where the board will vote on whether or not to approve Superintendent Stan Rounds’ actions of filing the restraining order.

If the board approves the action, the hearing scheduled next Tuesday in district court will go forward, but if they do not approve the motion the legal standing of the order may be in question.

News of the impending strike made national news last week.

Other conditions drivers are asking for include better pay (they haven’t had a raise in over three years!) and sick leave, something not currently offered in their contract.

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