The union representing Charleston bus drivers will resume negotiations with its private employer this afternoon in an attempt to reach an employment contract.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Dorchester 2, bus drivers agreed Tuesday 77-0 to authorize a strike should a deal there not be reached. Both Charleston and Dorchester 2 have hired Durham School Services to employ its drivers and manage its bus routes.
“It’s kind of hard to get unaninmous on anything you do these days,” said L.D. Fletcher, president of Teamsters Local 509, which represents drivers in Charleston, Dorchester 2 and Beaufort counties. “That sends a big message to the company that none of their employees are happy working for them with the way they’ve been treated and not resolving safety issue.”
Charleston bus drivers voted 186-0 last week to authorize a strike. The negotiations in each school district are separate, and a strike could be called in one but not another.
“It just depends on how negotiations goes,” Fletcher said.
Negotiations with Dorchester 2 were scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, and talks regarding Beaufort might happen Friday.
With the potential for a strike in Charleston looming, the state Board of Education is holding a called meeting Wednesday to consider a request for Durham to bring in qualified bus drivers from out-of-state should its local drivers decide to go on strike.
The emergency request is the only item on the board’s agenda. Negotiations between Durham and its Teamsters Local 509 union drivers for a new employment contract have been going on in both districts since last summer.
Charleston school leaders expect either a resolution or strike to occur by Jan. 28, although Fletcher said no deadline has been set and he wasn’t sure where the district got that date.
Nearly 300 of Charleston’s 413 drivers are part of the union, and they disagree with Durham on how much they should be paid. The same is true of the 125 union drivers in Dorchester 2 (the district has a total of about 165 drivers) and the 135 union drivers in Beaufort (the district has a total of about 170 drivers).
Neither side has said publicly what has been offered, but a letter from Charleston school officials to the state said the union appears to be asking for a 44 percent increase in salary and benefits in the first year of a three-year deal, and an additional increase of 20 percent in the remaining two years. The school district gave Durham a 5.1 percent increase total over two years when it extended its contract last year.
“The union and Durham are far apart and (Charleston County School District) is making contingency plans for a strike,” according to the letter.
As part of Durham’s contingency plans should a strike occur, Charleston school leaders are asking permission to allow Durham to bring in up to 30 non-union drivers from out of state who have their commercial driver’s license and meet other federal requirements.
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