HICKS COLUMN: To strike or not to strike ...
If the threat of a school-bus-driver strike has you worried, you are not alone.
This is a big deal — more than half of Charleston County's 45,000 students ride a bus.
You think the pick-up line at your school is bad now, imagine what a bus strike would do to it.
But hold off on those calls to your kid's school. They're on it, as much as they can be.
You see, this fight is between Durham School Services, which the Charleston County and Dorchester 2 school districts contract with for bus service, and its employees.
The schools really have no say, even though they are getting all the grief.
The thing to keep in mind here is that the threat of a strike and a strike are two different things.
One is a bargaining chip; the other is a pain in the bus.
It's the economy ...
The Teamsters, who represent the bus drivers, say they need public opinion on their side.
Sorry, but they've missed that bus.
The drivers are asking for a sizable pay raise — one report said 44 percent, but the union rebuts that — at a time when a lot of companies aren't giving any raises. So regardless of how good their case is, they aren't going to get a lot of sympathy.
Especially from people worried about how to get their kids to school.
Folks close to the negotiations say bus drivers make an average of $14.65 an hour, and work about 4.5 hours a day. For a school year, that works out to about $13,000.
Nobody's getting rich driving a bus, and that's not a lot of pay for a job where you have to put up with smarty pants school kids. Even if they wanted a 44 percent raise, that would put drivers at just under $19,000. It's not so much that the request is outlandish; it just sounds that way.
Public support for unions is pretty abysmal these days.
Part of that is the right-wing, pro-corporate media demonization of organized labor. But part of the problem is that the unions themselves are over-reaching. If you ask for so much that it risks wrecking a company, that is the very definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Look, unions have done a lot of good in this country — the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, overtime. Before unions started in the 19th century, a job was practically legalized slavery. You did whatever your boss wanted, no matter how unreasonable, or you could find a new job. And if they cut your pay and extended your hours, too bad.
It was kind of like some South Carolina politicians think it ought to be today.
Durham and the school districts say the buses will run. Not all drivers are union members, and even those who are could choose to continue working — they won't get paid otherwise.
Because the negotiations between Durham and its drivers are private, it's hard to say where the truth lies here.
But one thing is for sure: Threatening to leave kids stranded may scare a bus company, but it just makes parents mad.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com or read his blog at blog.postandcourier.com/brians-blog.