Courtesy of:  Rusty Ray @

CONWAY (WBTW) - No one was hurt when a school bus caught fire Monday morning.

It happened shortly after 7:00 a.m. on University Forest Circle.

CLICK HERE for a list of still pictures of the damaged bus!

According to officers on scene, everyone got off of the bus safely.  No word on what started the fire.

Count on News13 to update you on this story as we learn more.

Article and Pictures Online:

Durham School Bus Workers Speak Out About Safety, Wage Theft Concerns
ROSEDALE, Md., May 23, 2013 — /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 
School bus drivers and attendants with Durham School Services who transport students attending Baltimore City Public Schools
joined with Teamsters, political and other community leaders at a rally today to demand respect and safe working conditions.
Durham workers spoke out about workplace safety and service issues that may impact the safe transportation of area schoolchildren.

"I have reported mold problems on our bus for years and the problem is not fixed. I'm scared for the kids on the bus," said Stephanie Urosa, a six-year attendant on a bus for children with special needs. "Some of the children we transport have weakened immune systems and allergies and they don't need to be exposed to this. Mold is just one of a number of safety concerns we have."

In addition to mold, drivers and attendants spoke about fuel leaks, electrical problems, problems with the air brakes and a recent fire on a school bus. 

"Safety is paramount. Durham has ignored the workers' concerns about the unsafe conditions of the buses. Making matters worse, workers aren't getting a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. These workers deserve a strong union so their voices can be heard and our kids can be kept safe," said Sean Cedenio, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 570 in Baltimore.

"I support the bus drivers and attendants' fundamental right to collectively bargain. In light of the troubling reports about unsafe school buses and serious wage and hour issues, the workers here have a very important voice that should be heard," said J. Ronald DeJuliis, Maryland Commissioner of Labor and Industry.
More than 85 Durham drivers and attendants have signed on to a class-action lawsuit claiming wage theft by the contractor. In the lawsuit filed March 12 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the plaintiffs bring claims to recover wages owed by the company.

"This company has been taking the money we earn. I'm not paid for all of the hours I work and my paycheck hasn't been correct for the last year. We got so tired of reporting these pay issues without the company resolving the problem that the drivers and attendants had no choice but to file a class-action lawsuit to get the pay that we have worked hard for and earned," said Mildred Israel, a Durham driver in Rosedale.

In 2012 Durham workers filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over surveillance by the company as the workers began to organize to form a union with Local 570. The NLRB found in favor of the workers and issued Durham with a 60-day probation order in March 2013.

While under probation, Durham continued to violate labor laws and the workers were forced to file another unfair labor practice charge on May 1 against the company over illegal surveillance.

About 150 drivers and attendants work for Durham in Rosedale. Durham is the second-largest school bus company in the United States and a subsidiary of National Express Group PLC, a United Kingdom-based multinational transportation company.

Drive Up Standards is a national campaign to improve safety, service and work standards in the private school bus and transit industry. Since the campaign began in 2006, more than 35,700 drivers, monitors, aides, attendants and mechanics have become Teamsters

Read more here:
Courtesy of: Associated Press

Some lawmakers want to shift inspections to a new department, and that move could derail a bill that closes a loophole regarding buses with chronic problems.

DES MOINES -- Most Iowa lawmakers agree that changes need to be made to the state's system for inspecting school buses, but it's unlikely a bill will pass this year because they can't agree on what should be done.

A bill that would help close loopholes in the inspection system by requiring buses with serious problems to be re-inspected before returning to service passed the Iowa Senate on a 46-2 vote.

At least 99 school buses in Iowa have been found to have the same problems in consecutive inspections over the past five years. And Iowa school vehicles that carry fewer than 10 children aren't required to undergo safety inspections.

Some lawmakers now want to shift bus inspections out of the Education Department and into the state Transportation Department, and that move could derail the legislation, the Des Moines Register reported.

Republican Rep. Kevin Koester, of Ankeny, said school buses should undergo the same inspections as commercial vehicles, even if the revised bill can't be passed this year.

"I am not in a hurry to pass a bill that's not that adequate," he said. And the Education Department can make some changes to the inspections without a new law.

But former lawmaker Mike Cormack, who works for the Education Department, said moving the inspections would only delay needed improvements.

"It's careless and reckless to do lawmaking on something as important as the safety of children in the waning days of a legislative session," Cormack said. "The best thing would be to take the more well-vetted legislation and send it to
the governor's office."

Koester said moving inspections to the Transportation Department should save school districts money.

Article online:

Article courtesy of:  Kim Tunnicliffe @

WESTWOOD (Massachusetts) (CBS) – Bus inspectors fanned out across the state Monday to conduct their tri-annual inspections of all the school buses in Massachusetts.

At Westwood High School, inspectors checked backup warning systems, lights, windshield wipers and brakes. They even checked under the hood to make sure there was no critical oil or fluid leaks.

“We check the whole exterior of the bus,” said RMV inspector Brian Patten, “do a complete walk-around, check all the lug nuts make sure everything is securely fastened and check all the tires.”

Registrar Rachel Kaprielian says each of the state’s 9,000 school buses is checked three times a year. “There’s a half-a-million kids every single day that are transported on school buses, we have to ensure their safety on the bus and make sure the buses are in perfect tip-top condition,” said Kaprielian.

Three buses inspected on Monday had mirrors that needed to be adjusted. One bus failed due to battery issues, but it was able to be fixed on site.

All buses were cleared to be back on the road.

Article online:

  • Article courtesy of:  Bob Segall @

  • The number of serious safety violations found on Indiana school buses has jumped sharply, but most parents would have no way of knowing. 13 Investigates is now doing something that's never been done before: releasing inspection results for every school bus in the state. For many Indiana school districts, the online database paints a troubling picture of poor maintenance practices, apathy and risk-taking that puts student safety at risk.

    On a cool morning in May, as bus 117 rolls towards his driveway, Art Mabry looks down and smiles.

    "Give me a kiss and have a good day," he says, briefly locking eyes with his second-grade granddaughter before watching her climb aboard.  Moments later, the Warren Township school bus pulls around the corner, carrying Haley Mabry to elementary school – and also carrying a secret.

    Like many school buses in Warren Township, bus 117 has a history of serious safety violations. It recently failed its annual safety inspection.

    Art Mabry had no idea.

    "This is my routine. Every day, I put her on that bus, but I didn't know about any of that," he said, looking at a list of violations state inspectors recently found on bus 117. "Bad brakes? Bad steering? Engine problems? Oil and fluid leaks? If there's those kinds of issues going on, that's just total neglect for the safety of all these little children on these buses."

    Bus 117 is certainly not alone.

    View safety information on all Indiana school buses

    Inspection documents show safety violations involving thousands of school buses all over the state. Many of the violations are for serious safety problems that put hundreds of thousands of students at risk.

    Rigorous inspections

    Every school bus in Indiana must be inspected at least once per year. It's state law.

    Indiana State Police troopers conduct the inspections, which cover all aspects of the vehicle's operation.

    Inspectors say detecting mechanical issues is a crucial step in helping to prevent school bus accidents. And if there were to be an accident, state police want to make sure emergency equipment inside the bus is working so students can safely escape.

    "I look at every bus as a bus my child would be riding," said ISP motor carrier inspector Chris Kath. "These buses are transporting our children. What's more important than that?"

    Kath looks for even minor problems such as holes in seat cushions, broken brackets and trash left on a bus.

    But he says it's more serious violations involving brakes, tires, engines, and safety equipment that can result in a bus being classified as Out of Service.

    "Out of Service violations are something that could harm the student. It means [the bus] has what we deem a serious safety violation and they cannot transport passengers," he explained.

    Indiana State Police tell WTHR no more than 5- to 10-percent of a school district's buses should be placed Out of Service during an annual inspection.

    But Eyewitness News has found for many school districts, the Out of Service rate is much higher.

    "Wow. That's Terrible"

    13 Investigates obtained inspection results for every school bus in Indiana. They show some of Indiana's largest school districts have a horrible safety record when it comes to bus inspections.

    Among the worst Out of Service rates in the state: 
     - M.S.D. Warren Township at 29%
  •   - Lebanon Community Schools at 33%
      - M&M Bus Company (servicing Muncie Community Schools) at 37%
      - M.S.D. Lawrence Township at 40%
      - Illinois Central Bus Company (servicing Gary Community Schools) at 49%
  • How do that many school buses fail an annual state inspection?

    "It's a lack of preparation on our part. The buses should have been better prepared," admits Kevin Mest, chief operating officer for Illinois Central. "We should have done better. We're making plans to do better this year."

    He says some of the buses that failed last summer's state inspection were never intended to transport Gary school children and are no longer being used for the school district.

    But on a recent visit to Gary, 13 Investigates found many of the Illinois Central buses that failed the state inspection are transporting children to and from school.

    Bus 504, which was cited by state police for serious brake and steering problems, transports Kerance Jackson to the Banneker Achievement Center elementary school.

    Jackson's mother hadn't heard anything about the bus' troubled past.

    "Wow. That's terrible. I really just want to go snatch my son off the bus right now," said Keturah Jackson, after seeing a long list of Out of Service violations for the district's school bus contractor.

    Mest, who recently joined the bus company, says new management has been hired to ensure better compliance with state safety rules.

    "We learned some important lessons. We know our next inspection is coming in June and I am confident we're going to have a very strong inspection," Mest said.

    Warren Township Schools offered a vague statement suggesting it is taking action following its poor inspection this spring.

    "In response to the bus inspection data given to us by the Indiana State Police we are diligently looking at ways to improve upon our current maintenance practices and processes," wrote M.S.D. Warren Township media relations director Dennis Jarrett. He offered no specifics and did not respond to repeated requests by WTHR to explain why so many buses were placed Out of Service. He did, however, point out all of the school district's buses were eventually approved by ISP.

    Kids at risk

    It's a fact that poorly-performing school districts and bus companies like to point out after they suffer through a miserable inspection: buses placed out of service are not allowed to transport students until they are fixed, and many problems cited by ISP are fixed quickly.

    The problem is, most buses are only inspected once a year, and school districts know ahead of time when it's happening. Yet on inspection day -- the one day you would expect every Indiana school bus to be in the safest condition possible -- state police are still finding some school districts with 20-, 40-, even 50-percent of their buses that fail inspection.

    "I think it boils down to maintenance, or a lack thereof," said Kath, shaking his head. "And I wonder how those people still have their jobs and how the school and the school board is allowing it to go on .... They have to know, you're putting a child at risk."

    Some school districts -- like Lawrence Township -- admit their maintenance program is not working.

    "This is totally unacceptable," said Lawrence Township Schools operations director Rodger Smith, when WTHR asked him about his school district's 40-percent Out of Service rate. "We're going to change what we're doing and how we're doing things."

    Smith says since the district's embarrassing inspection in March, there is now a greater focus on fixing all problems on a school bus each time the bus comes to the maintenance garage for service. (In the past, buses were not subjected to full inspections on a regular basis by school mechanics.) But that new policy is unlikely to make a significant dent in the school district's bus
    maintenance woes. Smith says his transportation budget has been cut by more than a million dollars annually because of property tax caps that have hit schools hard.

    "I'm not saying it's an excuse but it's a pressure all school districts are moving to right now. A lack of budget within our transportation department… think about what kind of pressures that puts on us." 

    Lawrence Township Schools responded to the pressure by cutting back on bus mechanics. It used to have seven. Now it has only four mechanics to maintain 200 buses. (That 50:1 bus-to-mechanic ratio is much higher than other area school districts.) Some of those mechanics are angry.

    "They've cut back on everything," one of the mechanics told WTHR. Several current and former mechanics talked to 13 Investigates. All asked Eyewitness News to withhold their identity for fear of retaliation by the school district. But they are speaking out because they believe fewer mechanics is resulting in more safety problems and more danger on school buses.

    "Stuff is happening that shouldn't be happening," said an M.S.D. Lawrence Township mechanic. "Brake chambers bad. Tie rods bad … that's the stopping of the bus. Maybe they are saving a little money, but you can't just put kids at risk."

    Eyewitness News has found the number of buses ordered out of service for serious safety violations statewide has jumped 35% over the past 5 years. In 2008, the last time WTHR analyzed Indiana bus inspection statistics, 10% of school buses had been placed Out of Service by state inspectors. The current analysis of all statewide bus inspections shows 13.5% of inspected buses were ordered Out of Service from January 2012 through March 2013.

    "We do see a lot of it," Kath said. "It makes you scratch your head sometimes. Our job is to inspect the buses. It's not to be their maintenance department and to tell them what problems they need to fix. It can be frustrating."

    Nothing to hide

    Other school districts boast very low Out of Service rates. Their school buses seem to sail through state inspections.

    Last week, ISP inspectors completed an annual inspection on 39 Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson school buses in less than two hours. Only a single bus failed the inspection when a transmission fluid line burst as inspectors looked under the hood.

    "They do things the right way and you can tell that right away," Kath said. "Just about every one of their buses was approved."

    The district's superintendent says that's no coincidence.

    "We expect 100%," said Matt Prusiecki. "We're not waiting for problems to happen. We try to plan and prevent as opposed to respond and react. It's worked well for us."

    The school district has routinely maintained an Out Of Service rate between 2- and 7-percent.

    It has two mechanics for 39 buses, and that ratio allows for routine maintenance instead of only focusing on emergency repairs.

    While Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson permitted WTHR into its maintenance garage and granted full access to watch and videotape its annual inspections, many other school districts would not grant 13 Investigates any access to their facilities.

    "If they're doing things right, there should be nothing to hide," Kath said.

    Violations kept quiet

    So how will you know if school bus safety violations are up – and maintenance is down – at your child's school district … or if it's just the opposite?

    Chances are, you won't. (Actually you will if you keep reading.)

    School districts don't publish the information, and neither does Indiana State Police.

    ISP and the Indiana Department of Education began working to develop an online school bus inspection program in 2006. Back then, the state agencies told WTHR the program was supposed to provide parents access to bus inspection reports for their children's school buses. Seven years later, IDOE has pulled out of the project and ISP says it isn't sure if – or when – such a database will be ready for the public.

    "I wish I could give you a timeframe but I can't," said ISP Sgt. Dave Bursten.

    ISP has been working with a private company to establish a hand-held electronic inspection system. Compared to paper and pencil inspection forms, the new system has made school bus inspections far more efficient for state troopers. But the focus of the system has been to help inspectors -- not to make school bus records more accessible to the public.

    "Keep in mind, our goal here is not to create something for the public. That is a by-product. Our goal is to create a tool for conducting thorough, efficient, robust school bus inspections as we are required to do by state law," Bursten said.

    "Parents should see that" 

    Many parents, school officials, private bus companies, and even state police inspectors say more public access to school bus inspections is a good idea.

    "I would like to be told. I would definitely like to be told what's happening with the bus," said Keturah Jackson.

    "I as a parent want to know how my child's bus is maintained," agreed Trooper Kath.

    Illinois Central also favors heightened public access to inspection records and welcomes the idea of online reporting. "It was hard to even find the inspection results for our own company," Mest told WTHR. "We support full transparency and think it's appropriate to share full results."

    "I think parents should see that information. Of course, they want to know," added Mabry.

    Rick Pederson, transportation director for Center Grove Schools, says school districts should be on board, as well.

    "Parents have a right to know what their child is being transported on and what the condition of that vehicle is. If it was my child, I'd want to be certain that bus was safe before I put my child on that bus. Yeah, I think it's a good idea."

    That's why 13 Investigates has created an online school bus inspection tool. 
  • WTHR's searchable database includes information on every bus from every school district in Indiana. You'll find recent inspection data on public schools buses, private schools buses -- even daycare buses and after-school program buses, too.
    For the first time, it's all online and all in one place. Take a moment to check the buses in your school district, and to compare its Out of Service rate to other districts around the state.
  • Article Online:

    School bus safety regulations in Georgia
    Courtesy of:  Tara Herrschaft

    The school bus tragedy in Clay County raises questions about bus safety regulations.  Transportation officials in Lee County say they, along with all other public school systems in Georgia, have to follow strict state guidelines to make sure their precious cargo is safe.

    74 Lee County buses run every day, transporting children to and from school. And every 20 work days these buses are rotated into the shop to be examined carefully by a mechanic. 

    "We go through that bus from bumper to bumper. We check all lights, all gages, tires, tire rod ends.  We do everything that you possibly can see about that bus and put your hand on and pry to make sure it's working," said Ricky Canterbury, Lee County Schools Director of Transportation.

    The mechanic has a checklist he runs through and that paperwork is added to their records.  "Regular X means a mechanic has to look at it and repair it."

    Transportation officials say while this is the law for all Georgia school systems, this process also saves lives and money.

    "It's a preventive means as well as safety, because if you got $100 part fixing to tear up and you don't see it and when it tears up it takes a $2,000 part with it then we got a problem.  And plus, as I mentioned earlier, we're hauling precious cargo," explains Canterbury.

    The state also sends someone with the Department of Driver Services to conduct an assessment at every school system once a year, in addition to random visits. 

    "They got the right to come in here during any school year and pick out "x" number of buses random and go through them.  So we know they come one time, but we don't know when they're coming the other times and they can shut you down if you don't," said Canterbury.

    This entire process is put in place to prevent tragedies like the one on Tuesday in Clay County.  It's still unknown why that bus crashed, ejecting two 10 year-old girls. One of them was killed, the other remains in the hospital. 

    "It's a sad day, because even though this is Lee County, it doesn't matter if it's a north Georgia or south Georgia county.  It breaks my heart to see stuff like that.  And it brings up the question again about seat belts. A seatbelt would have probably saved that little girl," said Canterbury.

    One of many questions that remain is unanswered.

    "Right now you're safer without them you are with them. Or, from the money end, it would cost us a lot more to do it than it would cost us to lose. But at the same time you can't put a price on a child's life. So we're all a little tore up about what to do," said Canterbury.

    Ricky Canterbury says while a seat belt could have saved a life in this case, he believes it's safer not to have them because it makes it easier to evacuate small children if a bus were to catch on fire, or crash into a pond.


    Courtesy of:  Roberto Cruz  @ Poughkeepsie Journal

    Bus service for the Rhinebeck Central School District will be provided in a limited capacity this afternoon, a posting on the
    Rhinebeck Central School District website said. 

    High school and middle school bus routes 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, and 11 will be available, the posting said. At the elementary school, bus routes 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26 will be available. 

    School bus drivers who serve the Rhinebeck and Spackenkill school districts and the Dutchess Board of Cooperative Educational Services are once again on strike, protesting what they say are unsafe working conditions and abysmal
    employee turnover.

    Bus transportation to Rhinebeck schools this morning was not available in its usual capacity, a statement on the Rhinebeck Central School District website said. School officials advised parents to be prepared to provide transportation for their students this morning, leaving this afternoon’s bus service in question.

    Rhinebeck High School Principal Ed Davenport said from his vantage point, no bus transportation was provided to the high school this morning. He said school officials remain hopeful to have transportation available this afternoon, but  they are planning to deal with increased traffic if none is available. 

    Teamsters Local 445 business agent Lori Polesel says there will continue “to be unrest” from her union until Durham School Services, the contractor that provides bus transportation to the districts and Dutchess BOCES, addresses their concerns.

    “They continue to put profit over safety,” Polesel said.

    Article Online:
    Courtesy of:  Erin Kourkounis @

    A group of Santa Rosa school bus drivers is expected to bring concerns about bus safety and working conditions at Durham School Services to the Santa Rosa School Board Thursday.

    During the board’s meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, members will decide whether to grant Durham a five-year contract to operate district transportation. 

    In a forum organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union last week in Bagdad, Durham drivers in Milton, Pace and Navarre aired their concerns about workplace safety. 

    Their concerns ranged from fluid leaks to mold on buses and drivers going to work sick because they cannot afford to take time off. Some drivers say they are yelled at or ignored by supervisors when they bring up concerns. 

    About 210 Santa Rosa school bus drivers and monitors work for Durham, the second-largest school bus company in the country and a subsidiary of National Express Group PLC, a multinational transportation company based in the United Kingdom.

    Article Online:
    Courtesy of:  Santa Rosa's Press Gazette

    The International Brotherhood of Teamsters was in town this week to meet with Santa Rosa County school bus drivers. At a meeting Thursday night, bus drivers voiced concerns over safety of students, citing many complaints over the conditions of school buses used in the county; treatment by management; lack of basic medical first aid training; being forced to work when ill; and being subjected to verbal abuse by management.
    Among those concerns drivers reported in notarized affidavits they've experienced black mold in some buses; bald tires—including retreads on the front of the buses; broken seats; broken two-way radios; no air conditioning; and a panic button that didn't work. Some drivers said they do not have the training to handle specific special needs students placed on their buses. Fifteen school bus drivers in Santa Rosa County signed notarized affidavits stating their experiences and concerns dated March/2013.

    Diane Bence is a driver in Navarre for Durham and Santa Rosa County who has a three-page affidavit filed with the Teamsters. She appeared at Thursday's meeting to offer testimony about her experiences as a school bus driver. She says she believes 85% of the buses in Santa Rosa County has black mold. She says in August 2012 one driver, Darla Olson was ill from the mold and was nearly hospitalized. She states the brakes on some school buses have squeaking brakes or no brake pressure.

    Bence says in 2011, a dash light came on in her bus indicating an engine problem. When she made the mechanic for Durham aware of the issue, she says he told her to "go ahead and drive your route". She says she did and in less than ten minutes, the bus engine died in the middle of the road with children on board. She says she's driven the school bus with a fever of 103 because there are no replacement drivers and dispatchers and supervisor, Bob Downin, make drivers feel guilty and repeatedly call them to see when they are coming back to work. She also notes at times buses are loaded above safe capacity because of a driver shortage.

    A document provided by the Teamsters called the National Express Group Summary April 2013. The National Express Group is the parent company of Durham School Services, according to its website. The reports suggests the complaints against Durham are not isolated to Santa Rosa County, but the complaints appear to be the same in other districts. Specifically, the report indicates violations of human rights and worker rights including employees being forced to drive buses while sick and not being paid for all the time they spend taking their buses in for maintenance; or while cleaning or servicing the bus.

    "In Santa Rosa, Florida, some workers have had hours they work in excess of 40 hours per week rolled into next week to avoid paying overtime pay—a practice that violates the Fair Labor Standards Act," the report says.

    A complaint filed by Dean W. Phinney - organizer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a charge against Durham, specifically involving Bob Downin, on Dec. 27, 2012. the complaint states: "On or about 12/14/12 at a company sponsored event, area manager Bob Downin, provided a list to unit employees of financial and benefit improvements that were being offered by 
    Durham School Services. He went on to state that these improvements were only being offered and given to 'non-union' facilities."

    There are other complaints filed against the Santa Rosa Durham office alleging surveillance was done on Union organizers and unit employees by photographing/videoing them at the Milton office.

    A Teamster report states workers in Santa Rosa County voted to join the Teamsters by a wide margin - a move that the Teamsters say has prompted objections from Durham.

    Statement from Durham School Services regarding the Teamsters and the allegations:

    "Durham School Services takes the safety of our passengers and employees very seriously. We are disappointed that the Teamsters sought to cast accusations on the safety of our drivers, our equipment and the services we provide through name-calling and use of anecdotal stories with disputed facts. 
    It is unfair to the public in Santa Rosa that the union used this tactic to incite concern and fear throughout the community when in fact school buses are the safest way for students to get to school and Durham is a leader in safe transportation. School bus drivers are the most highly trained, tested and scrutinized drivers on the road. 

    We look to our drivers, like the ones in Santa Rosa, not only for safe driving but also to complete thorough pre and post trip inspections and to report any concerns with bus safety, services or working conditions through the multiple reporting channels we have in place.

    We will look into the details of the tales told at the meeting but more importantly, we will continue to focus on getting the students of Santa Rosa to and from school safely.”

    Article Online:

    Courtesy of:  Diette Courrege Casey @ The Post and Courier

    Sabrina Isom worries about the safety of Lowcountry school buses.

    She shares the same concerns as union school bus drivers in Beaufort County, Charleston County and Dorchester 2, and they're speaking out to ensure those issues are addressed.

    “They're breaking down, and they're unreliable, and we want to make sure they are not overcrowded,” said Isom, a

    former 25-year bus driver who represents drivers and monitors in Teamsters Local 509. “We want to make sure they are safe, and to make sure the equipment is safe for children.”

    That's one of the topics that will be discussed tonight during a meeting of local union school bus drivers and  international
    union representatives. They are coming together to try to understand about how they can better work with their drivers' employer, National Express, which is the parent company of Durham School Services. State and national labor
    leaders will host a forum to talk about how Durham handles its union workers in terms of safety and respect.

    “It's raising issues so that everyone is aware of what we're dealing with,” said Galen Munroe, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters based in Washington, D.C. “This is an information-gathering, fact-finding (international)
    delegation coming over to find out how National Express conducts business in North America.”

    The gathering in North Charleston will be one of two hosted nationally, and officials said the goal is exchanging information to help both American and international labor leaders.

    They chose Charleston County as a meeting site because of its number of union drivers, Munroe said. In Charleston County,
    nearly 300 of its 413 drivers are part of the union. In Dorchester 2, about 125 of 165 drivers are part of the union.

    Durham has contracts with Beaufort County, Charleston County and Dorchester 2 school districts to employ its drivers and manage its bus routes. Most drivers in each of those districts have joined the Teamsters Local 509, and that group
    threatened to strike earlier this year during contentious contract negotiations.

    Union drivers approved new five-year contracts with Durham about six weeks ago, and this meeting is not a result of dissatisfaction with those new deals.

    “We're not here to talk about those contracts,” Munroe said. “We're talking about what's going on in the (bus) yards
    when it comes to safety and human rights. ... Their concern is maintaining safety.”

    South Carolina has the nation's only state-run bus fleet; it also is the oldest in the country. The state is responsible for bus
    maintenance except in Mount Pleasant
    , where it has pilot-tested a privatized bus-maintenance shop. Durham officials have said they don't allow unsafe buses to be used.

    In Charleston County, Durham's contract to operate expires in June 2014. School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said the
    board hasn't talked about the company's future role in the district since the strike threat ended, but she expects that it will.

    Carina Noble, a spokeswoman for Durham, said the company didn't have any information other than what the union provided in a  press advisory. She said she couldn't comment further.

    The panel will include Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, who also is a former president of the steelworkers union; Kenneth Riley, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO; Fred Feinstein, former counsel for the National Labor Relations Board; and Michael Wasser, a senior policy analyst with American Rights at Work.

    Article Online: