As Eva Young pulls out of the Durham School Services bus yard in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., she finally has peace of mind, knowing that she and the preschool children that she transports are secure.
Young and her co-workers struggled for 18 months to win a fair contract from Durham that reduces turnover, improves safety and achieves economic fairness for members of Local 445 in Rock Tavern, N.Y.
The 173 drivers and monitors recently overwhelmingly ratified the four-year contract, their second agreement with Durham, a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based National Express Group PLC and the second-largest school bus transportation contractor in the United States. The workers transport children in the Dutchess County BOCES, Rhinebeck and Spackenkill school districts, as well as the Dutchess County preschool programs.
“This is a very good agreement and a significant improvement for every single one of our co-workers and for the children,” said Young, who is also chief shop steward. “I’m proud of all my co-workers who stuck together and didn’t lose hope when the company rejected all of our ideas. It is now clear that all of our hard work paid off.”
Long, Tough Fight
The school bus drivers and monitors won the contract through their unwavering persistence and determination. When they got started in June 2012, they were eager to negotiate with the company and were willing to reject substandard contract offers. In the spring of 2013, the workers held two unfair labor practice (ULP) strikes to let Durham management know they were united and serious about changing their working conditions for the better.
In February and March 2013, Durham spent an estimated $815,850 on replacement workers, money that could have gone to wage increases for its existing work force. As recently as December 2013, Durham signed a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) settlement agreement, rather than go to a hearing to face a ULP charge to determine the legality of the action they took in February 2013 of imposing a contract upon their employees.
“We always knew that a huge, multinational corporation like Durham could afford to do better. I’m glad they recognized these workers were not going to back down until they reached a fair agreement,” said Adrian Huff, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 445. “It was a long, tough fight, but the workers stuck together. They knew that they needed a contract that would provide fairness and would make improvements for all workers and the students they transport. We hope that this agreement will lead to a productive working relationship with Durham.”
“As a bus monitor whose sole job is child safety, I’m very pleased with this agreement. This contract ensures that every bus that is supposed to have a monitor will not have to leave the yard without a monitor,” said Nancy Ogden, who works at Durham.
The contract also includes access to restroom facilities, as well as improved lighting at the Poughkeepsie yard, an important worker safety issue. Under the agreement, workers are not required to clean up bodily fluids or hazardous materials without the proper equipment and training, and they will now be compensated for attending safety meetings.
“We believe that this agreement will benefit not just the workers, but the children in our communities and the school districts they attend,” said Lori Polesel, business agent with Local 445. “Having a wage scale will drastically reduce turnover. Turnover hurts the children most, especially special needs children.”
The new wage scale brings fairness to how workers are paid, and to get up to the new wage scale, the majority of workers will receive pay increases of more than 60 cents per hour. Once they are on scale, drivers will receive increases of 60 cents per hour and monitors 50 cents per hour. Some workers will receive up to a $4 per hour increase to get up to the new scale. Drivers will be paid according to their license, not just their job category, so that they will be rewarded for their training. The company also agreed to provide opportunities for workers to receive additional training.
Imagine that you are a school bus monitor in Poughkeepsie making $8 an hour or a driver making $10 an hour. Like many of your co-workers, you don’t have a bank account, so you take your paycheck every Friday to Bank of America, the bank where Durham does business. Bank of America charges a $6 fee to cash each check. Because of problems with payroll at Durham that require checks to be reissued, many weeks you receive more than one check, and have to pay $6 to cash each. Over the course of a year, these fees can add up to anywhere between $240 and $480, just to get the money you already earned.
“We fought very hard to eliminate the fees. Durham finally agreed to establish a voluntary program with debit cards from Bank of America. They can be used with no fees or charges,” Polesel said. “This will make a big difference for many of our members.”
Never Give Up
“I was a carhaul Teamster for many years and I had walked into a job that was really good because so many people before me had fought hard to make it a good job. That’s what we’re doing now in this industry and what school bus workers across the country are doing,” said Bob Quick, a Durham driver in Poughkeepsie. “I want to tell other school bus workers that they should reach out to the Teamsters and stand up for fairness in their workplace.”
“This contract is just another example of how the Teamsters are driving up standards in the school bus industry. Local 445 members should be commended for the courage to stand strong until they got a contract that fully recognized their dedication and hard work,” said Rick Middleton, International Vice President and Chair of the Teamsters national school bus campaign.
More than 36,500 school bus workers have joined the Teamsters since 2006 as part of the Teamsters Drive Up Standards campaign to improve safety, service and working conditions in the industry. At First Student, the largest school bus transportation company in the country and a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based First-Group, the Teamsters negotiated a national master agreement improving conditions for more than 30,000 school bus workers.
While there are more than 4,500 Teamsters at National Express, it has been a battle to achieve justice for school bus workers at this company.
In January 2013, negotiations for 620 Teamsters Local 509 members at Durham in three county-wide school districts—Charleston, Beaufort and Dorchester, S.C.—had stalled. Only after workers voted unanimously to authorize a strike action, and working with their local union, engaged community support, did the workers win a solid contract with improvements to their working conditions.
In February 2013, workers at Durham in Santa Rosa County, Fla., voted overwhelmingly to join Local 991 in Mobile, Ala. The 200 drivers and monitors have stood strong together and won improvements, despite the fact that Durham has refused to recognize the bargaining unit, denying the legitimacy of the NLRB and using legal maneuvers to prolong having to negotiate. For more than a year, the workers in Santa Rosa have worked together as a union, as they fight for recognition and look forward to negotiating their first Teamster contract.
“By local unions and the International Union standing together and working together, we can win at this company. It takes a committed and dedicated group of workers to show the company they will not back down, and it takes the patience to know that justice will prevail in the end,” Huff said. “We have to keep fighting. We can’t ever give up.”