The International Brotherhood of Teamsters was in town this week to meet with Santa Rosa County school bus drivers. At a meeting Thursday night, bus drivers voiced concerns over safety of students, citing many complaints over the conditions of school buses used in the county; treatment by management; lack of basic medical first aid training; being forced to work when ill; and being subjected to verbal abuse by management.
Among those concerns drivers reported in notarized affidavits they've experienced black mold in some buses; bald tires—including retreads on the front of the buses; broken seats; broken two-way radios; no air conditioning; and a panic button that didn't work. Some drivers said they do not have the training to handle specific special needs students placed on their buses. Fifteen school bus drivers in Santa Rosa County signed notarized affidavits stating their experiences and concerns dated March/2013.
Diane Bence is a driver in Navarre for Durham and Santa Rosa County who has a three-page affidavit filed with the Teamsters. She appeared at Thursday's meeting to offer testimony about her experiences as a school bus driver. She says she believes 85% of the buses in Santa Rosa County has black mold. She says in August 2012 one driver, Darla Olson was ill from the mold and was nearly hospitalized. She states the brakes on some school buses have squeaking brakes or no brake pressure.
Bence says in 2011, a dash light came on in her bus indicating an engine problem. When she made the mechanic for Durham aware of the issue, she says he told her to "go ahead and drive your route". She says she did and in less than ten minutes, the bus engine died in the middle of the road with children on board. She says she's driven the school bus with a fever of 103 because there are no replacement drivers and dispatchers and supervisor, Bob Downin, make drivers feel guilty and repeatedly call them to see when they are coming back to work. She also notes at times buses are loaded above safe capacity because of a driver shortage.
A document provided by the Teamsters titled the National Express Group Summary April 2013. The National Express Group is the parent company of Durham School Services, according to its website. The reports suggests the complaints against Durham are not isolated to Santa Rosa County, but the complaints appear to be the same in other districts. Specifically, the report indicates violations of human rights and worker rights including employees being forced to drive buses while sick and not being paid for all the time they spend taking their buses in for maintenance; or while cleaning or servicing the bus.
"In Santa Rosa, Florida, some workers have had hours they work in excess of 40 hours per week rolled into next week to avoid paying overtime pay—a practice that violates the Fair Labor Standards Act," the report says.
A complaint filed by Dean W. Phinney - organizer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a charge against Durham, specifically involving Bob Downin, on Dec. 27, 2012. the complaint states: "On or about 12/14/12 at a company sponsored event, area manager Bob Downin, provided a list to unit employees of financial and benefit improvements that were being offered by Durham School Services. He went on to state that these improvements were only being offered and given to 'non-union' facilities."
There are other complaints filed against the Santa Rosa Durham office alleging surveillance was done on Union organizers and unit employees by photographing/videoing them at the Milton office.
A Teamster report states workers in Santa Rosa County voted to join the Teamsters by a wide margin - a move that the Teamsters say has prompted objections from Durham.
"Durham School Services takes the safety of our passengers and employees very seriously. We are disappointed that the Teamsters sought to cast accusations on the safety of our drivers, our equipment and the services we provide through name-calling and use of anecdotal stories with disputed facts.
It is unfair to the public in Santa Rosa that the union used this tactic to incite concern and fear throughout the community when in fact school buses are the safest way for students to get to school and Durham is a leader in safe transportation. School bus drivers are the most highly trained, tested and scrutinized drivers on the road.
We look to our drivers, like the ones in Santa Rosa, not only for safe driving but also to complete thorough pre and post trip inspections and to report any concerns with bus safety, services or working conditions through the multiple reporting channels we have in place.
We will look into the details of the tales told at the meeting but more importantly, we will continue to focus on getting the students of Santa Rosa to and from school safely.”