By Matt Tomsic
Published Jan. 17, 2013
Charleston County school bus drivers and Durham School Services are preparing for negotiations next week over a labor contract following the drivers’ vote to authorize a strike.
On Tuesday, school bus drivers who work for Durham School Services voted 186-0 to authorize a strike because of disagreements in contract negotiations.
“We’ve had 34 negotiation sessions in three different locations — Charleston, Summerville and Beaufort — and because of the company, we are no further along now than when we started,” said L.D. Fletcher, president of Teamsters Local 509, which represents the Charleston County bus drivers. “This contractor needs to sit down and negotiate a contract in good faith that is fair to these workers and the children they transport.”
The contract in Charleston expired in August, and bus drivers have been working under its provisions until a new contract is ratified. The vote to authorize a strike doesn’t mean the bus drivers will begin striking now, but it clears an administrative hurdle for a potential strike.
The union cited disagreements with pay, the possible expiration of health insurance and working conditions as obstacles to a new deal with Durham School Services.
Blaine Krage, a spokesman with Durham, said the two sides don’t face a deadline, and the next step is the three negotiating sessions next week.
“We’re optimistic that good progress can be made,” Krage said. “As a company, our primary focus is always getting children to school safely and on time.”
Krage said Charleston County drivers run 386 bus routes and ferry about 25,000 students to and from school each day. Durham School Services has been driving students since 2007, Krage said, and the company is working with the Charleston County School District on contingency plans in case of a strike. Krage said the company would draw on its national resources to continue service.
“No one wins in a strike,” Krage said. “It’s disruptive for all involved.”