Durham Bus Drivers: 'Make Durham be accountable'

By Valencia

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - Nearly 75 Bus drivers with Durham School Services filed into a conference room at the North Charleston Coliseum to say enough is enough.

The Lowcountry drivers say they are underpaid and disrespected, a problem that is compounded by poorly maintained buses.

"We are so tired of driving these unsafe buses," said Sabrina Isom, business agent/organizer for Teamsters Local 509. "We're tired of the disrespect of Durham School Services. And, of this day right here, drivers and monitors, it's over."

One after another, the drivers told personal stories about how they had been mistreated.

"We have buses on Azalea lot that have molds on the ceilings, molds on the seat, windshield wipers don't half work," said Latisha Pringle, who has been a bus driver since 1988. "You call in over dispatch, you know what they say? Drive the bus, write it up when you return."

Others say the drivers are denied vacation and sick time and are afraid they will lose their jobs.

"I have gone to work with severe migraines to the point that I can't focus. I have gone to work with a 102 fever because I can't afford to come out being sick," said Claudia Herring, a bus driver for 13 years. {}

Herring cried during her testimony as she referred to an incident where a dispatcher called her a "stupid bitch" after Herring says her bus caught on fire. No dispatcher was available to help her.

One driver said the company impedes on her family's well-being.

"I'm a single mom. I've got my babies. I don't miss days," said Annette Hill, who has been a driver with Durham for two years. {}"If my kids are sick I would like to have the time to handle my kids. Many times, I have gotten rejected."

Roger Shepherd is a former bus driver who drove for Dorchester District 2 for nine years. He says the problem has gone on for years.

Shepherd told the story of a driver who was forced to work while extremely ill.

"Our safety officer handed her keys and said drive," said Shepherd. "She was on the road a spell of time and had a seizure."

The bus drivers testified in front of a panel which included Rep. Wendell Gilliard, former National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Fred Feinstein, and President of South Carolina's ALF-CIO Ken Riley.

Researchers say between June - August 2012, 165 Durham drivers and monitors were surveyed. Of those:

  • 50% reported broken heaters
  • 46% reported roof leaks
  • 42% reported broken defrosters
  • 38% reported doors unable to close properly
  • 36% reported broken windshield wipers
  • 34% reported faulty headlights

Dot Scott with the Charleston chapter of the NAACP also attended Tuesday's meeting.

On Wednesday, Durham issued a statement saying the union never made requests about safety during the months of contract negotiations.

"Durham School Services just concluded extensive collective bargaining negotiations with the Teamsters for bus drivers in Charleston, Dorchester, and Beaufort counties during which the Teamsters made no specific safety proposals over months of discussions. We are trying to better understand the focus of the union meeting and the concerns being raised," said the company's spokeswoman, Carina Noble. "We have a clear process in place for drivers to report any concerns with bus safety, services or working conditions. Our drivers check the conditions of each and every bus, regardless of Company or State ownership, through a thorough pretrip inspection prior to leaving the lot for service. In order to ensure that no bus takes to the road with an issue that could lead to a breakdown or inconvenience student passengers, our drivers may escalate any maintenance issue to 'critical' and recommend the bus be removed from service."