Mechanic Eric Albertson, center, removes tires from a school bus during its yearly full maintenance check Wednesday afternoon at the SC School Bus Maintenance Shop in Beaufort.(Photo: Sarah Welliver)
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Union bus drivers in the Beaufort County school district approved a five-year contract offer from their employer, Durham School Services, Wednesday night, ending the threat of a potential strike.
The vote followed months of negotiations between Durham and Teamsters Local 509, the union that represents the drivers as well as monitors who assist drivers in transporting special education students.
The Durham employees had been working without a contract since last summer, and voted last month to authorize strikes if contract negotiations were unsuccessful.
"This hasn't been a short or easy road to travel, but it appears that Durham and its drivers and monitors have reached an agreement that will bring stability to their relationship," acting school superintendent Jackie Rosswurm said in a news release. "For our parents, this agreement should ease their concerns about a sudden interruption in school bus service due to a strike."
Three South Carolina school districts - Beaufort County, Charleston and Dorchester District 2 in Summerville - contract with Durham to supervise bus routes, drivers and monitors.
Drivers and monitors in Dorchester District 2 approved their new contract Tuesday night, and a vote is scheduled for Charleston on Saturday.
Attempts Wednesday night to reach Durham and Teamsters officials were unsuccessful, and details of the new five-year deal for Beaufort County were not immediately available.
The five-year deal in Dorchester 2 will give drivers a 50-cent raise the first year, and 45-cent raise the following four years. Drivers also will have five paid holidays. This is the first time Dorchester 2 drivers have had a contract with Durham, and this is their first raise in three years, according to The (Charleston) Post and Courier.
Durham told reporters last month it offered to increase new drivers' starting pay by 50 cents to $12 an hour, and average pay by 45 cents to $15.01 per hour for Beaufort County union members. That would increase drivers' pay about 3 to 4 percent. The union had requested a 10-percent raise, John Elliott, chairman emeritus of Durham School Services, said at the time.
The Beaufort County School District did not participate in contract negotiations.
About half of the Beaufort County district's 200 drivers and monitors -- who serve more than 11,000 students each day -- are union members. Only three drivers in Dorchester 2 were opposed to the deal, and only four were opposed in Beaufort, the Charleston newspaper reported.
The (Charleston) Post and Courier contributed to this report.