TORONTO, Nov. 10, 2016 /CNW/ - School bus drivers in Toronto and York Region, members of Unifor Local 4268, ratified a new collective agreement setting new standards that could help avoid driver shortages if more widely adopted. "This contract lays the groundwork for helping attract drivers to the industry, and to avoid future shortages by helping to retain drivers," said Local 4268 President Debbie Montgomery. "For drivers who are members of Unifor in the Toronto and York Region, the job just got better." More than 2,600 students across the public and Catholic school boards in Toronto were left stranded when school resumed this year due to a shortage of drivers. The boards hired taxis, SUVs from limousine companies and even flew in drivers from Alberta to cover the routes. "No child should be left on a curb when a school bus should be picking them up. I am proud of these drivers for working so hard to improve conditions in the industry in hopes that it never happens again," said Unifor Assistant to the National Secretary-Treasurer Jenny Ahn. Unifor Local 4268 represents 320 drivers with First Student bus company, which serves about 8,500 students in the public and Catholic school boards in Toronto and York Region. The contract was reached after a marathon bargaining session last week that went past a possible strike or lockout deadline. The contract, ratified by a vote of 75 per cent, includes higher wages for drivers, and bus drivers getting paid for all the hours they are on duty, not just time when children are on the bus. Non-driving route tasks, previously paid a minimum wage of $11.42, will increase to $13.40 over the life of the agreement. All rates in the collective agreement increase by between 6 and 17 per cent. As well, all paid time will be Employment Insurance accredited, allowing these workers to qualify for EI benefits during periods of lay off.