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Union reports progress in trying to organize Roanoke school bus drivers

Union reports progress in trying to organize Roanoke school bus drivers

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A campaign to install a union for bus drivers at Durham School Services in Roanoke is making progress, a union official said.

Company employees contacted the union after late buses disrupted the first days of school in August, said Cliff Headrick, the Roanoke-based executive board member of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Employee Lori Dempsey, a Durham School Services bus operator, spoke favorably of the union’s efforts while meeting with union officials on a street near the company’s Barns Avenue office Friday. “I think we’ll get the union in there,” said Dempsey, who described workers’ needs as better pay and benefits.

Local 1493 of the transit union represents Valley Metro drivers and mechanics.

Durham School Services belongs to the North American business unit of UK-based National Express Group. If Durham School Services personnel in Roanoke “choose to be represented, we will work with the union as we do at our locations across North America” with union representation, Durham School Services spokesman Edward Flavin said.

About a third of the company’s workforce is represented by labor unions, he said without specifying whether the statistic applies just to Durham School Services or to the company as a whole. National Express describes itself as the second-largest school bus operator in North America and said it works for 600 school systems in more than 30 states and three Canadian provinces.

Headrick predicted that a vote will occur before the end of the year. The potential bargaining unit at Durham School Services would have 240 people and, so far, the union has collected signatures from at least 30% of them, he said. Signature collection will continue, according to Headrick, who declined to give the exact percentage in hand so far. Thirty percent is the minimum signature count needed for a union to petition the National Labor Relations Board to hold a vote.

The union would be declared the collective bargaining representative for the workers if a majority of the ballots cast favored the union. The union would bargain with the company over the terms and conditions of employment, according to NLRB rules.

Headrick said Durham School Services employees “reached out to us because of all the problems they’re dealing with.”

Durham School Services is in the first year of a five-year student transportation contract with Roanoke City Public Schools. The company has acknowledged to school officials lapses in service and said it has been unable to hire enough drivers since taking over for Mountain Valley Transportation, whose contract expired.

While staffing more than 130 bus routes, Durham still needs 10 to 20 drivers in Roanoke, the company said.

Recently, Durham offered a hiring bonus of $2,500 and starting pay of $17 per hour.

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Jeff Sturgeon covers business, banking, transportation and federal court. Phone: (540) 981-3251. Email: Mail: 201 W. Campbell Ave., Roanoke, VA 24011.

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