Charleston County bus drivers union OKs strike

By Eric

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The Charleston County school bus drivers union voted unanimously Tuesday to authorize a strike.

That means negotiations between the union and Durham School Services, which oversees the drivers, will continue for nearly two more weeks. But if no agreement is reached in that time, the drivers will strike.

Following their vote,186 unionized, bus drivers walked out of their meeting in North Charleston. They left in agreement, they are prepared to strike.

"The overall moral is in the toilet, it's bad, most people don't like working for the company," said school bus driver, Fredirick Adkins. "They like the kids, they like the job."

Bus drivers and their union reps said they deserve improved pay, better healthcare benefits, which potentially expire in December, and safer buses. The Charleston County fleet carries 25,000 students to school everyday.

"If we don't reach where we think we need to be, then I'll call a strike," said Teamsters Local 509 president, L.D. Fletcher.

Fletcher called Durham School Services untrustworthy. Durham is contracted by the school district. Fletcher said he's negotiated with Durham on 18 different occasions but has gotten nowhere.

"I just want them to sit down and negotiate and give these people what they deserve," he said. "We're not asking for the world."

School bus drivers claim the buses are in bad shape. They say some have fuel leaks, while others don't have heat.

"We're out there trying to make sure kids get to school safely, and on time," Adkins said. "When the buses are breaking down, dying, just stalling out in the middle of the road, that creates a serious issue."

National Express Corporation, which owns Durham, told ABC News 4, the state is responsible for maintaining the vast majority of buses. And South Carolina is known to have the country's oldest.

National Express said it does not want to see a strike, though they are working on a contingency plan with the school district, if a strike does happen. Negotiations will resume Monday, January 21.

The earliest date drivers would strike looks to be {}Jan. 28.

In response, the Charleston County School District issued the following statement:{}

"Since 2007, Durham School Services -- a private sector company -- has provided virtually all of our bus transportation needs. This afternoon, drivers from the Durham School Services union (Teamsters) approved the authorization of a strike, should negotiations come to an impasse. If a strike is enacted, we expect Durham to develop a contingency plan that continues to provide qualified drivers who can safely transport our students. At this time, we are not expecting any service interruptions or significant delays. The district has not been part of the negotiation process and does not have first hand knowledge of the items being discussed between the two groups."