Beaufort's unionized school bus drivers vote to strike if negotiations fail

January 28, 2013 

Unionized school-bus drivers for Beaufort County's public schools have voted 93-2 to authorize a strike, the Teamsters announced just after noon today.

They join unionized drivers in both Charleston County and Dorchester 2 districts, who have voted to go on strike if they cannot reach a deal on drivers' pay and benefits.

Whether a strike will actually occur remains unclear.

Durham School Services — the company that provides bus services for the Beaufort County School District, as well as Charleston and Dorchester 2 — and the Teamsters union failed to reach an agreement during contract negotiations Friday and Saturday in Charleston. The parties plan to meet again Tuesday, according to a Durham spokeswoman.

About half of Beaufort County's 200 bus drivers are Teamsters, according to school district spokesman Jim Foster.

The school district is not part of the ongoing talks. Should negotiations fail and drivers strike, Durham has assured the district it has contingency plans to get students to and from school, Foster said.

The drivers and monitors involved in negotiations are members of Teamsters Local 509 based in Columbia.

Neither side will discuss drivers' demands or the company's position.

However, in a news release today, the Teamsters say the drivers seek "a fair contract from Durham that values their hard work and secures decent and safe working conditions in transporting area school children."

Durham spokeswoman Carina Noble issued a statement Sunday saying: "Durham School Services shares in the concern for the uncertainty of student transportation services that lies in the hands of the union."

Noble says the company remains "committed to reaching an agreement with the Teamsters as we continue to balance the interests of our employees, our customers and our company at the negotiating table ... and will do all we can to minimize service disruption to students and ensure our employees are covered by a new and fair agreement."

Check back with The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette for the latest information, and follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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