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Teamsters ready to battle school transport corp

Jan 11, 2011 8:28 am
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Durham School Services provides bus transportation for 300 school districts nationwide, and is increasingly facing union frustration with their budget cuts."][/caption]It may not involve the news directly in our listening area, but a story in today's January 11 Daily Freeman about bus drivers still working despite their union's strike vote has local interest because of the ways in which it invokes shifts in Labor's power after a half century of effort against the previous half century's gains for employees, as well as what's at stake in the year to come as folks try cutting away at education expenses wherever they can.

"Employees in the union representing 175 Durham School Services bus drivers and monitors are continuing to work despite a strike vote before students went on Christmas break, as negotiations have moved forward since the vote," the piece by Kyle Wind reads.

“Progress continues to be made, but more is still to be accomplished,” said company spokesman Carina Noble in a prepared statement. “We have set the next meeting date as Jan. 25 and are optimistic that we will be able to reach an agreement for our drivers and monitors. In the meantime, we have commitments from union leadership of no work action prior to our next bargaining session.”

Following those negotiations, Adrian Huff, the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 445, said he will meet with membership and “follow their lead.” Huff has said the vote to strike was nearly unanimous. He said the 175 workers unionized last year and are 18 negotiating sessions into creating a first contract with management.

Durham, a subsidiary of National Express Corp. of Great Britain, handles all busing for the Rhinebeck school district and three routes for special education services for the Rondout Valley school district. Thus far, transportation has not been disrupted. It is the nation's second largest school bus operating company.

The current threat of union action is the first in the area of transportation to affect a local school district, many of which are now eying cuts to teaching and other staff, as well as programs and even schools, to meet what is anticipated to be a shrinking of our educational opportunities tied to tax reforms being called for by older voters sick of covering for others' kids, as some have started to say..

Huff has said Durham offered 3 percent raises, but the union found that “insufficient.” Huff noted Durham’s bus drivers do not get paid for sick time and do not receive employer-subsidized health insurance. As such, Huff has said employees, many of whom are making at or near minimum wage, often can’t afford to miss work when they are sick and risk spreading illness to students and co-workers.

Before the Christmas break Huff said the Teamsters would work with schools districts on when the strike was going to begin. “The last thing we want is to leave kids waiting in the cold,” he said.

Huff has said employees are often exposed to illness.

Rhinebeck district Superintendent Joseph Phelan said the company has looked into ways to continue to provide its service if the union does follow through on the strike vote after Jan. 25 so the district’s program would not be interrupted. If non-union workers were brought in from outside the area, Huff has indicated the union would consider picketing school districts.

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