(Providence, RI – September 11, 2020) – Bus drivers, monitors and aides represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328 have voted to authorize a work action against Durham School Services, which services Cumberland Public Schools, Providence Mayoral Academy and Blackstone Valley Prep. Each year, these hard-working transportation workers dedicate themselves to safely transporting children across communities including Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket and Cumberland. They formed their union with UFCW Local 328 in September 2019 to build a better future for their families and the communities they serve. After months of cancelled and stalled negotiations in which Durham has repeatedly failed to address critical health, safety and economic concerns of workers, it is clear that further action is necessary to force Durham to begin negotiating in good faith.
As local districts establish plans for resuming schooling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, labor organizations have been advocating for procedures that recognize the health and safety of workers and children as a foremost priority. Unfortunately, while many public officials have taken these health and safety concerns seriously, Durham has not. The company has refused to commit to the most basic safety protocols including temperature and symptom checks of students at bus stops, has failed to properly train workers on cleaning protocols and health hazards associated with cleaning products and has refused to hire an outside cleaning company to deep clean buses. The company has even gone as far as describing COVID-19 as comparable to the flu. Refusing to take the virus seriously is an insult to the workers and unnecessarily puts lives at stake.
In another affront to the well-being of its workers, Durham has refused to offer additional sick time to workers in the event they contract COVID-19 or if mandated to self-quarantine. This reckless proposal forces workers to choose between economic hardship and putting themselves and others at risk.
In addition to health risks, the pandemic has created immense economic hardship for workers in all areas. To this end, Durham has also failed to meet the moment in contract negotiations. After its parent company earned record-profits in 2019 amounting to over $270 million, Durham has offered up meager pay for workers who are essential for keeping our children safe. The company’s proposal offers bus monitors a rate of $11.66 an hour that would cap them at an insulting rate of $12.13 by 2023. The company’s proposal also keeps bus drivers earning far below industry standards and surrounding bus yards. Low wages at Durham has consistently led to a revolving door of employment that has hurt the continuity our children and communities deserve.
Dating back for years, there have been numerous complaints from local school districts regarding late buses and disruptions in service due to Durham’s mismanagement. The company’s inability to offer a better future for their employees has led to under-staffing, which results in critical safety concerns for both employees and our communities. One of these major safety issues includes oftentimes buses operating without having monitors on-board. As a July 30 letter signed by several local officials makes clear, these failures and the unwillingness of Durham to negotiate a contract in good faith jeopardizes the education, health and safety of schoolchildren in the communities served by Durham. Our communities deserve a good partner in their school transportation company. We hope that Durham will come back to the table in a more open and honest manner so that a fair agreement can be reached. Our next date for negotiations is scheduled for Thursday, September 17th.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328 represents over 11,000 workers across Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts in several sectors, including. food retail, healthcare, banking and transportation.