Hundreds of Miami-Dade bus drivers played hooky from work Friday in an apparent strike over wages and benefits, making several students late and leaving some stranded at bus stops.
Some 242 out of 1,300 bus drivers didn't show up for work Friday, leading to problems at 80 schools, district spokesman John Schuster told the Miami Herald.
"We had some slowdowns this morning because there was a larger than normal number of bus drivers who were absent today," Schuster said.
The bus drivers were asking for a 17 percent increase in their health benefits for this year.
"Insurance keeps going up, union keeps going up, everything's going up, and we're not getting no raise," said bus driver Terry Barrett.
The schools affected are served by the central, west and southwest transportation centers. Schuster said it appeared to be a strike over a breakdown in union negotiations and increased benefits costs that kicked in Jan. 1.
"Some of the employees are saying people should work, others are saying they should not," Schuster said. "What we do know is that in this state, striking for them would be illegal. We have people who have called in sick and are not sick, who are actually demonstrating near the bus depots. So that’s not what we would quantify as a sick day."
Schuster couldn't say how many students were affected, but several schools saw delays.
"We run approximately 250 routes out of those yards. We probably doubled up about 50 routes today, which means if you double up the run you have two runs being done by one bus -- you would have some delays," school official Dr. Marcos Moran said.
Sherman Henry, the head of the local AFSCME chapter that represents the bus drivers, said the union didn't organize a protest and that they were trying to help the district cover routes with drivers who did show up.
Henry said drivers were upset after receiving paychecks on Thursday, as well as a rise in healthcare costs that appeared to be a negotiating tactic by the district.
School board member Carlos Curbelo condemned the strike, saying it was putting the safety of the children at risk.
"Using children and putting their safety at risk is not an acceptable negotiation tactic. It is shameful and reprehensible," Curbelo said in a statement. "I call upon the Superintendent and his team to take swift action to address the conduct of the AFSCME union members that abandoned our students this morning. Our children and their families do not deserve this."
Some parents had to make alternate arrangements for their children, including skipping off work themselves.
"I missed my day. I was supposed to work today but I had to take her to school," father Oscar Garza said.