The 795 bus drivers and bus attendants for First Student, the contractor that runs the Wichita schools bus system, have voted to join the Teamsters union.
The vote Friday to form Local 795 of the Teamsters was by a 7 to 1 ratio, according to Jarrod Skelton, an international organizer for the union.
A negotiating team will be named within a few weeks to begin the process of contract negotiations.
The unionization drive in Wichita is part of a nationwide effort. Since 2006, the Teamsters have organized 29,000 bus drivers and attendants, said Galen Munroe, a spokesman for the Teamsters.
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First Student, the nation's largest bus contractor, took over for Durham School Services in July. The drivers weren't unionized under Durham, Skelton said.
He said the drivers are earning just more than $12 an hour and the attendants about $8 an hour.
The company has adopted a policy of "freedom of association" for its workers, which allows them to unionize without interference from the company, said First Student spokeswoman Bonnie Bastian.
"We have some unionized and some nonunionized employees," she said. "It doesn't affect the service we provide."
The numbers of unionized workers working in the public sector nationally exceeded those in the private sector for the first time last year.
That's the result of last year's massive layoffs in manufacturing, as well as long-term resistance to unionization. Private sector union membership plummeted by 10 percent in 2009, while government unions posted slight gains.
However, this year, local and state governments have cut deeply into their employment roles.