By Jason Song | LA Times
September 23, 2009 -- In what Los Angeles school district officials hope is the first of several concessions by labor unions, bus drivers have agreed to take six unpaid days off this fiscal year, officials said Tuesday.
The deal is the first time in recent history that a school district union has agreed to furloughs. Last year, the district approved -- but never required -- four unpaid days off for most employees in an attempt to offset a budget shortfall.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is facing a nearly $200-million budget shortfall this fiscal year.
"We hope . . . we will be able to make similar announcements" in the near future, said David Holmquist, the district's chief operating officer.
Leaders of the Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents about 1,100 bus drivers, said their membership agreed to furloughs because all members' hours and retirement benefits otherwise would have been reduced.
"We understand it is a necessary sacrifice to protect good jobs in this hard economy and secure services to students," Edward Reed, Local 99's president, said in a statement.
The drivers transport about 55,000 students daily, according to the district. Because of the shortfall, the district cut $28 million from its transportation budget and eliminated more than 150 routes. Drivers will try to take their furlough days during school vacations to prevent a disruption in service to students, union leaders said.
It remains unclear if other labor groups also will accept furlough days. United Teachers Los Angeles officials have opposed them in the past, but said they discussed other cost-saving measures with L.A. Unified officials.
"This summer, UTLA put forth a proposal which would have kept class size down and reemployed all laid-off teachers, but the district would not agree to it," said A.J. Duffy, president of the teachers union.
District officials said they could not guarantee that the bus drivers' concessions would spare them from future cuts, but added that they want to avoid layoffs. "Our goal is to protect jobs," board member Yolie Flores Aguilar said.
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