Durham contract dispute adds bigger challenge to busing

Durham contract dispute adds bigger challenge to busing

CUMBERLAND – School officials, already dealing with the complexities of fitting students on buses based on distancing rules this fall, say they’re very concerned about the ongoing lack of a contract for staff at busing company Durham School Services.

Today, July 30, school bus drivers, monitors and bus aides employed by Durham will hold a rally outside of Cumberland High School.

The employees, who service Cumberland public schools, Blackstone Valley Prep and Providence Mayoral Academy, formed their union with UFCW Local 328 last September “to address critical issues that impact both safety and service for their communities.”

“For years, these workers have witnessed a revolving door of employment, which has led to a number of safety concerns including understaffing, drivers often having to operate buses without essential monitors on board, and bus crowding which leads to disruptions in service for our communities,” states a release.

“Disappointingly, Durham School Services refused to meet through virtual meetings the entire month of July and has agreed to only one meeting date on Aug. 4,” it adds. “We find their lack of urgency deeply troubling as we approach the reopening of school. This rally is to call on Durham School Services to act as a better community partner when families need it most.”

School Committee Chairman Paul DiModica said school and town officials are very nervous about how the contract negotiations might impact the start of school, particularly if there’s a strike.

Sen. Ryan Pearson, all local state representatives, town officials, as well as school board members Jennifer Bernardo and Karen Freedman were all among those who co-signed a letter asking the sides to come together and negotiate, he said.

Durham spokesman Edward Flavian said the sides have met several times and plan to meet again on Aug. 4.

“The safety of our employees and passengers will remain our number one priority, and we will continue to negotiate in good faith,” he said.

Supt. Bob Mitchell told the school board last week that of all the issues facing schools as they look at a return of students on Aug. 31, one of the single biggest challenges is related to transportation and how districts get students to and from school while effectively social distancing.

State Rep. Jim McLaughlin has submitted a resolution requesting that sides in this dispute meet by Aug. 5 and have a contract resolved by Aug. 15.