Durham closing local bus operation, layoffs possible
As city officials prepare to assume control of student bus transportation, the school district’s present provider has announced more than 100 potential layoffs as its contract with Shelton expires at the end of the month.
Durham School Services, in a letter to the state Department of Labor dated May 22, announced that its school transportation contract with the city of Shelton expires June 30, forcing the closure of the company’s operation at 40 Riverdale Avenue.
“Shelton drivers and monitors received a layoff notice from Durham School Services that states the bus company has yet to reach a new agreement with the city,” said Ben Phillips, communications director with CSEA SEIU Local 2001, the union representing the Shelton bus drivers and monitors.
“It is CSEA’s hope that no layoffs will be necessary and that Shelton’s highly qualified school bus drivers and monitors can get back to delivering Shelton’s most precious cargo to school safely,” added Phillips.
In a negotiated settlement last year with the Board of Education, the city — which owns the buses — will take control of student transportation beginning on July 1. In the agreement, the city guaranteed that the school district would pay $3.1 million, some $1 million less than the deal with Durham.
The city will be running the buses beginning on July 8 with the opening of the district’s summer school, and Mayor Mark Lauretti said the city will begin posts this week for the necessary jobs — some 80 — to operate the buses. Lauretti said the maintenance of all buses is up to date, and the city has had constant dialogue with Durham officials about vehicle maintenance.
“I am focusing on what I have to do here,” Lauretti said about those who have voiced concern about the city’s ability to run the student transportation operation. “Those people don’t want to be convinced. They want to be right, and they want me to be wrong. I am focusing on a result, and we have been pretty good at that.”
Overall, Durham will be eliminating 60 drivers and 39 monitors, along with eight other positions, in Shelton. To reduce the impact of the closing, Ronald Johns, Durham’s regional human resources manager, stated that the company will “offer employees scheduled for layoff the opportunity to transfer to other Durham locations throughout the United States.”
CSEA SEIU Local 2001 has not been in negotiations with the city, but Phillips said that, from his understanding, Durham School Services and the City of Shelton are still negotiating.
Lauretti confirmed that he has been in negotiations with Durham officials, saying that “nothing is off the table. It all comes down to the money involved.”
Durham School Services’ media representative Ed Flavin said Durham and the city has been engaged in talks for quite some time.
“Over the past year, we have had the pleasure in serving the schools and the overall community of Shelton as their student transportation provider,” said Flavin. “We have enjoyed working with all parties involved and hope we can continue serving them into the future.”
Flavin said, although Durham officials remain hopeful in securing a longer-term contract to continue working with the city; “at this juncture, we have not been able to reach an agreement renewing a contract going forward.
“Due to the uncertainty of Durham’s future partnership, we had the legal obligation to notify our employees of the potential closure of our operation in Shelton,” added Flavin. “We operate in several locations throughout the state of Connecticut and will offer employees continued employment opportunities with us elsewhere for those that are interested.”
“Shelton drivers and monitors received a layoff notice from Durham School Services that states the bus company has yet to reach a new agreement with the city,” said Phillips. “It is CSEA’s hope that no layoffs will be necessary and that Shelton’s highly qualified school bus drivers and monitors can get back to delivering Shelton’s most precious cargo to school safely.”
The potential layoffs come only weeks after the Durham School Services and CSEA SEIU Local 2001, the union representing the drivers and monitors, reached a new contract that required Durham to honor the wages and benefits promised to workers under the previous contract with Landmark Transportation. Included in the agreement is full back pay of the raises due in September 2018.
That approved deal ended what had become several contentious months between Shelton’s bus drivers and monitors and their employer, Durham School Services. This deal was first announced last week, only days after Shelton bus drivers and monitors had voted to authorize a strike and even scheduled a walkout. Negotiations started in earnest one day before the walkout was set to begin.
Phillips said that in 2018, Durham School Services signed a one-year, multimillion-dollar contract with the Shelton Board of Education to provide school transportation, and school bus workers were covered by a union contract that included negotiated pay and benefits through August 2020.