Charleston County school bus operator sues Teamsters union – again

A Durham School Services bus transports children home from St. Andrew’s School of Math of Science.

The company charged with running Charleston County School District’s fleet of school buses is suing the local drivers’ union for the third time in less than two years.

In the lawsuit filed in district court Friday, Durham School Services alleges the Teamsters Local 509 violated their five-year collective bargaining agreement by engaging in a “systematic and continuing campaign aimed at undermining and interfering” with its services for the school district.

The Warrenville, Ill.-based company, which operates tens of thousands of school buses in more than 400 school districts across the country, has been providing transportation services to the Charleston district since 2007. The Teamsters Local 509 of West Columbia represents Durham’s 400-plus school bus drivers and aides working here.

In the suit, Durham accuses the union of “maliciously smearing” the company in multiple public forums and press conferences while its contract with the school district was up for renewal in April 2014. The Teamsters’ intention, the suit alleges, was to convince the district to end its relationship with Durham and start doing business with another transportation service provider, First Student.

As a result of the union’s “unrelenting campaign,” the suit claims Durham suffered “substantial and ongoing” financial costs in addition to damages to “its reputation and business goodwill.”

Durham’s latest lawsuit against the Teamsters comes less than three months after the Charleston County School Board voted to award the company a new five-year, $67 million contract, despite drivers’ concerns about unsafe and unclean buses.

Durham did not immediately answer questions about the lawsuit.

The last two times Durham sued the Teamsters Local 509 in federal court were in January 2014 and four months later, in April. The January lawsuit stemmed from a pair of grievances the union filed in the summer of 2013, alleging that Durham had breached their labor agreement by using nonunion employees and independent contractors to repair bus seats and clean the vehicles. In the suit, Durham claimed the union was trying to “acquire new work” for its members and force the transportation company to drop its nonunion workers in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

The April lawsuit revolved around the 2013 firing of a Charleston County bus driver who was caught on camera using a cellphone while driving. After the Teamsters filed a grievance on the driver’s behalf, a labor management committee overturned her termination based on a technicality. In the suit, Durham accused the committee of acting in “bad faith, arbitrarily, and capriciously for ulterior reasons” when it sided with the Teamsters. Both cases remain unresolved.

A spokesman for Local 509, President L.D. Fletcher, said the union has not been contacted about the most recent litigation and declined to comment.

Durham also transports students for Beaufort County and until recently, Dorchester District 2. In April, the District 2 Board of Trustees voted not to renew its contract with Durham, citing increased costs of services.

Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.