By CBS3 Staff

NEWARK, Del. (CBS) — Union bus drivers in New Castle County returned to work Friday in a show of good faith after their union and employer, First Student, reached a tentative agreement on a new contract.

A vote on the contract is expected next week.

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Some school districts in the county were forced to revert to virtual learning Thursday after bus drivers went on strike. The union turned down an offer Wednesday but came to a tentative agreement Thursday afternoon.

For months now, bus drivers in the Appoquinimink School District threatened to strike, hoping for better wages and benefits. On Thursday, that threat became a reality. Buses didn’t roll in three school districts in Delaware Thursday morning. Instead of sitting behind the wheel, bus drivers were on the picket line.

“We’ve been out here since about 5:30 this morning,” one driver said, “and we think it’ll continue [until] the company brings back something that we can accept.”

About 50 bus drivers with First Student in Newark went on strike Thursday. The school bus contractor handles 26 routes for the district, leaving many students and families without transportation to and from school Thursday morning.

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Drivers walked off the job demanding better pay, health care benefits and improved working conditions.

“We’re asking for demands of a short-term contract,” a driver said. “They presented us with five years, we only offered three years. We want better health plan benefits and we also want to help out drivers who have less time with seniority so they don’t get bumped on their routes.”

Len McCartney is the vice president of Teamster’s Union Local 326. He says the pandemic coupled with a national bus driver shortage is why drivers should be valued even more.

“There’s a school bus shortage all across the country and these people do a valuable job,” McCartney said. “They deliver students to the schools every single day and it’s an important job and they should be compensated accordingly. They should have the pay, the health care and the pension that they deserve.”

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CBS3’s Natasha Brown contributed to this report.