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Durham bus drivers speak out at forum

  • Thursday, April 18, 2013

Durham School Services bus driver Ava Walker (center, holding microphone) describes working conditions at Tuesday's forum. STEFAN ROGENMOSER/JOURNAL SCENE

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 Drivers described unsafe bus conditions and the disrespect employees receive from Durham School Services.
More than 100 people, including Dorchester District 2 and Charleston County School District drivers spoke out against what they say is harsh and unfair treatment, giving emphatic and emotional deliveries of working conditions in the private-sector company.
The forum hosted by Teamsters Local 509 out of Charleston was held at the North Charleston Convention Center Tuesday evening.
CCSD has contracted Durham since 2007 and DD2 has worked with the company since 2011.
Employees shared stories of driving buses with bald tires, cracked windshields, broken radios, horns and policies that belittle workers.
Teamsters Local 509 President L.D. Fletcher said a Beaufort driver had a choking child on the bus and was fired for leaving the bus to retrieve water. He said the radio on the bus was broken as were the radios on the two buses behind it. He said Durham has a policy of firing any driver who leaves a bus.
“This is ridiculous,” he said. “If you have a child in danger, get help. If you have a radio that is not working, refuse to drive.”
“When you call to tell them your lights don't work they tell you to keep pushing, keep driving,” former Durham driver and Local 506 member Sebrina Isom said. “I'm sure the (school) district is not aware of these conditions.”
Isom told attendees to refuse to drive an unsafe bus.
“We need to stand up and make Durham accountable for what they do,” Isom said.
She said 50 percent of the buses have broken heaters, 42 percent have broken defrosters, 38 percent of doors don't close properly, 37 percent have broken radios and 30 percent have broken speedometers. Isom and others said drivers' multiple requests to Durham to fix these problems go unheeded, she said.
“There is definitely no respect,” DD2 driver Annette Hill said. “We drive unsafe buses. We love our job. We want respect. We want to be treated fairly.”
“I recently blew the whistle on my bus so I could hear the radio because the kids' voices were like a stadium,” Charleston County driver Margie Young said. “I was put on a different route because I blew the whistle . . . I have driven three buses in the last seven days.”
Charleston County driver Iris Williams said first aid kits on buses are so old bandages don't stick when drivers put them on children. “We'd like to get our children home as safe as we can.”
Others shared stories of Durham not giving employees time off even after family deaths, emergencies or after giving ample notice.
Claudia Herring said she drove with a 102 fever because she could not afford to miss work. When her bus lost speed a dispatcher told her to keep going. When the bus caught on fire she said there was no response from the dispatcher but a firefighter who responded said she did a good job.
The dispatcher then called Herring a liar, among other obscene names Herring refused to repeat, and said the fire never happened, according to Herring.
“I drove for Dorchester District 2 for 11 of my 13 years,” Herring said. “I used to like my job. I felt wanted.”
She excused herself from the microphone after breaking down in tears.
Driver Ava Walker said she works at the Ladson lot where a truck nearly hit her bus head-on. She said a dispatcher made obscenely racist remarks toward her over the radio.
“They do not care nothing about the drivers at all,” Walker said, adding she's a single mom with a child who has respiratory problems. “When they told me to turn my phone off I said no.”

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