Shelton bus drivers postpone strike

Photo of Brian Gioiele

Shelton buses will run as scheduled Tuesday, April 30.

After hours of negotiations Monday, CSEA SEIU Local 2001, the union representing Shelton school bus drivers and monitors, and Durham School Services appear to have found common ground, and any strike has been put off for now.

"A strike is postponed for the time being,” said CSEA SEIU Local 2001 Communications Director Ben Phillips. “We think we have agreement on all substantive issues and are meeting again (Tuesday, April 30) to finalize an agreement. The strike authorization remains in place until a formal tentative agreement is signed.”

Phillips offered no details on any potential deal.

This is the latest twist in Shelton school transportation saga, which took the turn toward a walkout by drivers and monitors on Wednesday, April 24, when the union voted to authorize a strike against its employer, Durham School Services.

That strike authorization vote was followed two days later by an informational picket by drivers and monitors at the bus garage on Riverdale Avenue. It was there that some drivers admitted that, if no negotiations were held by Monday, April 29, a one-day walkout was planned for today, Tuesday, April 30.

“This is a last resort,” said driver Peter Miani on Friday, as his fellow workers marched in the bus garage lot chanting slogans demanding a fair contract. “We’ve tried just about everything, and it is not working. We are considering that if (Durham) does not come to the table on Monday, we’re going to strike Tuesday. A one-day strike and see where it goes. Hopefully that is enough to let them know we are serious.”

Phillips could not confirm any firm walkout date, saying only that the union wants to negotiate and avoid a strike.

Phillips said drivers and monitors in Shelton have been working without a contract since July 2018, when Durham began providing school transportation services in the city and refused to honor the collective bargaining agreement that was in place and had included wage increases.

In a post on Facebook, the union listed several items Durham wants to remove from the union contract, including retroactive raises, personal days, unpaid extended leave, payment for “student endorsement” renewal, mileage reimbursement for drug test and medical exams, and payment for travel and testing time of drug tests and medical exams. Employees would also be forced to work the day before and after to receive holiday pay.

“We continue to negotiate in good faith and have offered additional dates to meet with the union next week,” said Durham School Services’ media representative Ed Flavin. “We do not comment publicly on the details of its ongoing labor negotiations.”

“Fair is fair,” said Jessica Wright on Friday, a bus monitor for the past three years. “We have been tolerant long enough. Corporate greed is a problem.”

Wright said she is hoping for the best but believes that a strike seems inevitable.

Durham School Services took over the bus drivers and monitors contract from Landmark prior to the present school year, and union members say that the company has not honored the contract that was already in place.

The city of Shelton will be taking control of school transportation in July, which means that a new contract will be finalized between the city and the drivers and monitors at that time. Both Mayor Mark Lauretti and Phillips confirmed that there have been discussions but nothing close to being final yet.

"We want to maintain a positive relationship with the mayor’s office, a positive relationship with the superintendent,” said Phillips, “but we do not want (Durham) to take the money and run and leave these drivers in the lurch so to speak.”

“The blue collar guy gets robbed again,” said longtime bus driver Rich Forcier during Friday’s picket. “We had a contract with Landmark with wage increases. (Durham) took over the contract we had with Landmark on Sept. 1 this past year, and no raises, nothing. Now we’re going into May, no raises or back pay from Sept. 1, and now they want to take away sick days and personal days. They are trying to leave in June and take everything with them, all the money they owe us. I see a strike here, definitely.”

As the threat of a bus drivers strike looms, school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet, in a letter posted on the district’s website on Thursday, April 25, recommends that parents of school-aged children be prepared for the uncertainty a potential strike of bus drivers may cause. Clouet said parents will also be contacted with this information.

“Our intention is to keep schools open,” said Clouet, adding that parents should “make a plan” in the event of this potential strike. “If the bus drivers do authorize a strike, we will inform parents immediately.

“Our district website will be posting regular updates,” stated Clouet. “The situation may change quickly. We will send out email and voice messages. I recommend checking the website regularly. It may be that drivers decide to protest and picket. That might not mean a strike is underway."

Durham School Services is a division of National Express LLC which, according to the company’s website, is the North American subsidiary of National Express Group PLC, a transportation firm in the United Kingdom.