In this file photo, A school bus driver pulls out of the parking lot to start her afternoon route on Jan. 28 at the Beaufort County School District office in Beaufort. Unionized school bus drivers for Beaufort County's public schools have voted 93-2 to authorize a strike. They join unionized drivers in both Charleston County and Dorchester 2 districts, who have voted to go on strike if they cannot reach a deal on drivers' pay and benefits.(Photo: Sarah Welliver)
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The company that provides bus service for the Beaufort County School District says progress has been made in striking a long-awaited deal for a new employment contract with unionized bus drivers and monitors.
Durham School Services spokeswoman Carina Noble issued a statement Friday morning saying the company "made very good progress in discussions with the union," but needs more time to "fine-tune some details."
Talks continue next week, and Noble says Durham has been assured by the union that drivers and monitors will not strike "as long as we are in active discussions."
"We appreciate the patience of our employees, our customers and the communities we serve as we work through the bargaining process," Noble said.
Talks appeared to have broken down between Durham and the Teamsters union earlier in the week.
A Teamsters representative accused Durham School Services of walking out of meetings with the union Tuesday morning, The (Charleston) Post and Courier reported.
Durham denied the claim. In a statement Tuesday, the company says it increased its offer to raise the pay of drivers and monitors but is unable to meet the union's "unreasonable demands."
The company also accused the union of being unwilling to enter into mediation for a new contract.
Durham and Teamsters Local 509, based in Columbia, have been negotiating since July over pay and benefits for union drivers and bus monitors in the Lowcountry, including about 100 who work for the Beaufort County School District. They have been working without a contract since then.
Beaufort County union members voted last week to strike should negotiations fail, joining union drivers in the Charleston County and Dorchester 2 districts.
The Teamsters met Tuesday with school district officials, including interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm, assuring them they had not called a strike and wished to continue negotiations, district spokesman Jim Foster said.
Beaufort County union members also packed County Council chambers Tuesday during the Board of Education's regular meeting to complain of unsafe buses and ask for district intervention.
"We're not asking for a whole lot," bus driver Sherryl Drake told the board. "We're just trying to live. We are not being treated fairly. ... We get up every day and drive this precious cargo and depend on this job, but want it done safely and fairly. What about the bus drivers and monitors? No one from the district has talked to us to ask us about our concerns. ... What about us?"