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Latest News - April 2012

April 5, 2012
Bus drivers to decide on union April 13
Source: Summerville Journal Scene
By: Jim Tatum

Bus drivers for Durham School Services, the private corporation that currently operates the Dorchester District 2 school bus services, will soon decide whether they want to unionize.

Some 160 bus drivers and monitors will vote on whether to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, during an election to be held in the Durham offices on Boone Hill Road April 13, according L.D. Fletcher, President, Local 509 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The discussions have been ongoing since the beginning of the year and feedback seems to be strongly pro union, Fletcher said.

“I think we’re going to overwhelmingly win it,” Fletcher said. “We have strong support there.”

Fletcher noted that the union does not solicit membership; workers who find they are being disparately treated at their worksites seek out the union.

The Teamsters have a strong and growing presence in South Carolina, Fletcher said.

“We currently have 4,700 members in South Carolina, and in fact, ever since (Gov. Nikki) Haley took office, we’ve had more organizational activity than ever before,” he said.

Currently, the Teamsters have unionized Durham drivers in Beaufort and Charleston Counties. Since that time, the union has successfully negotiated contracts to increase wages and bring added protection to workers who otherwise would not have a voice, Fletcher said. He cited the example of a Beaufort County driver who was fired from her job for leaving her bus unattended, which was a violation of district policy. However, she left the bus because one of the students was feeling faint. The bus had no radio; she could not call for help; so she signaled a bus driver behind her to watch the children on her bus while she ran into a school building to get some water and seek help.

“We were able to get her job back and get her several months back pay – she would have been gone and that would have been the end of it, otherwise,” he said. “These are good people – they just want job protection and they want a voice in what goes on.”

DD2 outsourced bus operations to Durham last year, said DD2 Chief Financial Officer Allyson Duke. Currently, the contract, which runs from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012, calls for the district pays Durham $136.19 per bus per day to essentially handle all the logistics of school bus service. According to the terms of that contract, the company cannot increase what it charges the district more than two percent, and that figure is built in to the district’s budget, she said.

Whether or not the drivers join the union does not particularly affect the district, at least under the terms of this contract. However, the district negotiates the contract year to year, which means the school board always has the option of seeking another provider of those services if it sees fit to do so.

The current bus fleet is still owned and maintained by the state of South Carolina, Duke said. As part of the contract with DD2, however, Durham did install security cameras and radios in every bus. In addition, Durham also added two new activity buses to the fleet, she said.

“We had a few minor hiccups in the beginning but overall, it seems to have been a good situation for the district,” she said of the decision to outsource to Durham.

Durham officials say that most of their employees throughout the company nationwide do not belong to unions, but the company does not oppose employees engaging in union activity, noted Dave Brabender, Durham School Services Regional Manager.

“The company feels it is very important for employees to vote – and to vote how they honestly feel,” Brabender said. “The company would never hinder that.”

Nonetheless, Brabender noted that, while a union can make promises, it can’t necessarily deliver on them – that ultimately falls to the company. When Durham contracted with DD2, the company hired the drivers at the same wages the district paid them, and gave them a pay increase, he said. They also have benefits through Durham as well, Brubender said.

Currently, drivers are paid $10.50 per hour for driving their regular assigned routes and are paid $9 an hour for driving any extracurricular activities, he said. The reason for that is because extracurricular activity driving is voluntary extra duty, not assigned responsibility.

Brubender also said that each contract is based on a separate set of circumstances and one must look at the entire picture rather than individual parts.

“There are a lot of things that play into it,” he said.




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