— By SALLY SEXTON
Contract negotiations are ongoing between Durham School Services and bus drivers within Weatherford ISD, but discussions have reached a stalemate, according to drivers.
Negotiations began in August between the transportation company and the drivers, who became the first Durham branch in the state to unionize after a 49-14 vote among employees back in May.
Lori Kitts, a driver and negotiator for Weatherford, said that some agreements had been reached but that both parties were still discussing terms.
“Durham School Services has been negotiating with the Texas Worker’s Union since October to reach a fair agreement to cover our employees in Weatherford,” Carina Noble, a spokesperson with Durham, said. “To date, we have reached agreement on many points and are optimist about continued progress.”
Friday, many households within the Weatherford School District received fliers in the mail from Weatherford school bus drivers and monitors, outlining basic information on the drivers’ current contract and urging the community’s support.
“We want the community to know some of the issues we’re facing,” Kitts said. “Yes, it’s about the money, but it’s not all about the money.”
One of the main issues drivers are concerned with are days without pay, including holidays and sick days.
“Whether it’s teacher in-service days or any holiday that falls within the school year, we aren’t compensated for that,” driver/negotiator Dan Linden said. “We know for a fact that Durham has granted that to other drivers in other contracts.”
Drivers also are allowed no sick days and no excused absences other than a death in the immediate family.
“We used to have sick days, but now we don’t have any,” Kitts said. “We’ve gradually lost them all.”
One thing workers suggested was that drivers and monitors get one day off, which would amount to four hours of pay, per year if they never call in.
“We asked them that and they said no,” Kitts said. “It’s profit over people.”
While time off is one thing the drivers and monitors are arguing for, pay increase is another.
“If you look at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the medium wage for bus drivers is $11.63. The medium wage for trash truck drivers is $12.60. I’m not taking anything away from our sanitation workers, but I think children have more value than your garbage,” Linden said.
In addition, workers are looking to get compensated for wait time, or the time between actually transporting students.
“Right now, we’ve got people that come in at 5 a.m. to get ready for their 6 a.m. drive,” Linden said. “In between routes, you can’t go home so you go to the bus barn and wait until your next route.
“We only get paid for what we drive. That’s the reason no one wants to sign up for the field trips, because they aren’t compensating us for those wait times.”
Kitts said that a raise of 20 cents per hour was offered by Durham, but that the workers turned it down in favor of a 30-cent raise, which was recently awarded to Keller drivers.
Noble stressed that some of the demands being made were more on the level of full time employees. Weatherford drivers and monitors operate on a part time basis.
“The demands being made by the union are perhaps more consistent with that of full time positions,” she said. “However, our employees are part time employees and while we value them greatly, we cannot compensate them as full time employees.”
Negotiations are scheduled to resume again Monday.