School bus driver negotiations continue as midnight deadline comes and goes

A group of school bus drivers in the Markham area could soon be on strike. Unifor Local 4268, the union representing a group of school bus drivers in the Markham area, is trying to come to an agreement with a school transportation company.

Midnight Wednesday was deadline for union and transportation company to come to agreement

A school bus strike was averted Thursday morning. (CBC)

The president of the union representing more than 300 bus drivers in Toronto says she is still hopeful a decision will be reached with the school transportation company. 

Debbie Montgomery of Unifor Local 4268 told CBC News on Wednesday evening that the company First Student in Markham had resumed negotiations.

"There's always hope when you're talking, right?" Montgomery said. 

If a deal isn't reached Wednesday, a group of about 325 GTA school bus drivers could be on strike as early as Thursday morning.

If there is a work stoppage, 8,500 students from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the York Region District School Board, and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) would be affected.

The drivers cover routes in York Region and the city of Toronto.  

'Tough talk'

Earlier Wednesday, Montgomery said that wages are the biggest issue being negotiated. 

"We are the lowest paid transit workers in the province," she said. "I believe that's where our struggle is going to be."

Montgomery said the union has been working for the last month to settle on a collective agreement with First Student, but that progress "has not been too speedy." 

She added that she's "daunted" by what the union needs to accomplish in Wednesday's meetings. 

 "I think it's going to be some tough talk."

TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird says that in the event of a strike, classes would continue as usual. Parents of about 2,500 students would have to come up with alternate transportation plans, however.

"We can't, nor can other bus companies, replace the bus drivers for that many students," Bird said. "To find replacement bus drivers and buses amid a bus driver shortage for 8,000 is just not possible."

On Tuesday, the TDSB sent a letter to parents warning them that if the bus drivers do walk off the job, there will be no possibility of replacing the missing buses.  

"We encourage parents to begin to plan alternate arrangements," read the letter. 

TDSB to parents: prepare for a strike

A similar letter was put out by the York Region District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board. 

The school boards are hoping to avoid a strike, especially after a school bus shortage earlier this year forced hundreds of Greater Toronto Area parents to drive their kids to school. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for the York Region District School Board said it is optimistic an agreement will be reached and it is keeping parents informed.

Montgomery said she understands how difficult the situation has been. 

"We know parents have had enough to deal with the shortage of bus drivers," she said. 

"We really, really hope there isn't a strike." 

The TDSB said it will notify parents immediately if no agreement is reached by the 12:01 a.m. deadline on Thursday.