By SALLY SEXTON
After months of negotiations between Weatherford bus drivers and monitors and Durham School Services, employees from the Weatherford branch took matters into their own hands Tuesday night, with 95 percent of workers voting to authorize a strike.
With the approval, the Weatherford group, which voted to unionize itself last May, now has the option to go on strike at any time.
“All we’re trying to do is address the inequities and to keep our good drivers. What we’ve asked for isn’t horrendous, they’re simple considerations,” driver Peggy Linden said. “We have no interest in destroying Durham or their reputation — that would be counterproductive.”
Contract negotiations between the two parties began in August, and a compromise looked promising, with Durham and Weatherford agreeing on about 45 of the 50 contract articles presented. But the discussions came to a stalemate when the topic of pay and days off were addressed, according to drivers.
“Anything to do with money, economics, guaranteed hours, that’s all been like pulling teeth,” Dan Linden said.
According to the Weatherford union’s last proposal, drivers had asked for a tiered pay scale, based on years of service, starting out at $11.25 an hour for drivers and $9.45 an hour for monitors. Drivers had also requested two paid holidays for the first year of service and two additional holidays after two years of service, as well as one paid day off given for perfect attendance.
“The union demands of a 15 percent wage increase, plus additional enhancements, continue to be completely unrealistic and leave us disappointed with recent progress,” Durham spokesperson Carina Noble said. “Durham School Services submitted its best and final offer to representatives from the Transport Workers Union on Feb. 11.
“This offer included an average wage increase of 2.5 percent for our employees, which is greater than that received by district employees.”