Teamsters

North America's Strongest Union

Teamsters tell European union leaders about National Express's abuses

Sheryl Drake, a Durham school bus driver for Dorchester District 2

Sheryl Drake, a 25-year-school bus driver, told an international panel of union leaders that Durham School Services cheats its workers and lets its buses fall into disrepair.

Drake is speaking tonight at a North Charleston, S.C., forum about National Express, Durham's U.K.  parent company. Attending are local political and labor leaders and trade unionists from Unite the Union in the UK, the International Transport Workers Federation and German unions ver.di and EVG.

Durham contracts with three South Carolina school districts and is the second-largest school bus company in the United States. The Teamsters represent 4,700 National Express workers in North America. The company reports that 94 percent of the U.K. work force is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, compared to only 32 percent of its North American work force.

Here's what Sister Drake told the panel:

The seats on many of the buses are torn and ratty and children shouldn't be forced to sit on them. Durham used to repair the seats but they quit doing this because they didn't want to pay for it.  The buses also leak badly when it rains and the seats get wet and the kids are forced to just endure it.  These kids shouldn't be put into this position of having to ride a bus in this condition. 

At our March safety meeting last month we took a bus from Hilton Head to the meeting because the tires were bald and we wanted to show Sara Johnson, Durham's safety manager in Beaufort.  When we showed Ms. Johnson the tires she told us that the tires were fine and  we should continue to drive the bus.  I have been a trainer for many years and would tell any trainee that these tires shouldn't be driven on...

Buses are never repaired when safety issues are reported.  When mechanics are asked about the reports that Zonar (the system were drivers report repair issues) should be giving them they say they never received them. We even went back to writing paper reports on repairs because the mechanics weren't getting the information from Zonar.  Even with the written reports repairs aren't done in a timely manner. 

...I was shorted 5 hours one week and went to talk to Sara Johnson who also does the payroll.  She told me that Gary Bradley, area manager, shortened the hours.  When I asked Gary Bradley about it directly he said he knew nothing about this issue.  We double up on routes regularly with no extra pay even though Durham is getting aid for both routes.

Drivers also can't call in sick because management belittles them and doesn't understand why they  can't come to work.  I had the flu and knew I shouldn't drive.  When I called in and they couldn't understand why I couldn't work.  I came in and worked part of the morning but was so sick I called and told dispatch that I couldn't safely do my job.  We had a driver that was at her doctor's office and called in from there because she was so sick and wanted her doctor to talk to the management.  She was berated over the phone for not coming into work.  The doctor was amazed that her boss was acting like this when she was doing the right thing by not being responsible for driving kids home when she was too ill to do so.

U.S. panel members included South Carolina state Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-111), former National Labor Relations Board general counsel Fred Feinstein, South Carolina AFL-CIO president Ken Riley, and senior policy analyst with America Rights at Work Michael Wasser, who served as the delegation chair.

Sebrina Isom, a former Durham driver and member of Teamsters Local 509 in West Columbia, spoke to the panel about the importance of holding the company accountable for its actions in the U.S.:

These drivers are speaking out to raise awareness of what we deal with every day on the job. We transport children, we work hard and it’s not too much to ask that National Express take more responsibility and treat us with fairness and respect.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued 57 formal complaints since 2001 against Durham. These complaints resulted in settlements. The complaints came as a result of charges by Durham workers that include disparate treatment; discipline and discharge of employees engaged in union organizing; surveillance of workers engaged in union activity; and threatening workers with reduction in benefits, working conditions and the loss of employment for supporting unionization.

The delegation will travel to Santa Rosa, Fla., to hear from additional Durham workers on Thursday.