Chatham school bus drivers say “stay tuned” to see if they strike

Savannah-Chatham bus drivers and transportation support staff rally against school board takeover of busing

(SAVANNAH) Trouble appears to be brewing between school bus drivers and the Savannah Chatham County Public School System over the plan to scrap privatization and return operations to district control. Unionized transportation workers started their week with a rally at the school board headquarters on Bull Street on Monday. They are currently members of Teamster’s Local 728. A pair of informational meetings with drivers, monitors, mechanics, and transportation staff were held Monday and Tuesday respectively. Kendrick Banks, a bus driver and shop steward representing workers for the Teamster’s says both meetings were one-sided conversations. ” Pretty much they pushed the major concerns that we as drivers had, they pushed them to the side and said we’re not gonna deal with those.” Banks said.

Kristen Hurley says she’s been a transportation worker for 6 years, working as a driver and as a monitor, says the school system made a take it or leave it offer to transportation workers. ” Yes it did, because they were like, you don’t have to come back… like a slap in the face and I just don’t agree with you, you know I work hard.” said Hurley. 23 year veteran driver Brenda Kendrick echoes frustration about the meetings. “”I’ve been here 23 years and I finally made it to $16-dollars an hour. they won’t let us know for a positive fact, if we’re gonna maintain our pay rate or not. So I can’t just jump out there and retire so we are between a rock and a hard place, myself and a lot of the other senior drivers.” Kendrick said.

The issues: salaries and the future of collective bargaining for bus drivers. The school system says it’s hands are tied by state law when it comes to signing a contract with a union. Vanessa Miller-Kaigler is the Chief of Facilities Management and Support Services, the department that will oversee bus service, says the assurances workers are looking for are not available to any worker with SCCPSS. “I’m not guaranteed to have a job tomorrow, but we will, um, vigorously recruit. We want those individuals who are qualified. those folks who are out there on the road. Those individuals who are familiar with the routes, familiar with our schools, who are familiar with our students.” Kaigler said. She adds all qualified individuals are encouraged to apply once that stage of their hiring process begins.

Senior drivers with the most time on the job say they have the most to lose if pay cuts are implemented when the district takes control next year. Banks implied that a strike is not out of the question and one driver points to a glaring flaw with a county-run bus system, especially if there is labor trouble. ” What they gonna do if we’re not here? They don’t have nobody to pull like those other companies that have been here. They pulled from Jacksonville…anywhere. they don’t have nobody to pull from.” Hurley said.

A spokeswoman with the school system says a lot of the confusion over salaries is due to a handout at those meetings. Sheila Parker-Blanco says many workers mistook the sample salary in the handout as the actual top salary for drivers, which was less than $14-dollars an hour. Blanco and Kaigler says each worker hired will be paid based on their experience, but they say paid within reason. The school system says it’s hands are tied by state law when it comes to signing a contract with a union. While picketing is an option, Banks would not say if it’s something that will happen sooner or later. The SCCPSS is supposed to take the wheel of bus service next year.

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