Strike ‘not off the table’ for Cumberland school bus drivers

Bus drivers with Durham School Services in Cumberland are hoping to negotiate a contract that includes a Covid-19 safety plan before the school year starts.

CUMBERLAND, R.I. (WLNE) – Bus drivers with Durham School Services in Cumberland are hoping to negotiate a contract that includes a Covid-19 safety plan before the school year starts.

Representatives with Union UFCW Local 328 tell ABC 6 the drivers have been working without a contract for almost a year.

In a letter to Durham School Services, local and state officials in Cumberland urged the company to come to the table with the union to work out a contract.

“Here we are about five or six weeks before the opening of school. We have so many obstacles we have to conquer in light of Covid-19 and certainly busing is one of them,” said¬† Cumberland Town Council President Craig Dwyer.

The drivers have been working without a contract for several months. A union representative through UFCW Local 328 tells ABC 6 they’ve been unsuccessful in getting the company to meet with them.

“There’s many many safety issues to discuss based on the facts of what’s going on,” said Domenic Pontarelli of UFCW Local 328,

The groups are supposed to meet at the beginning of August, but bus driver Vincent Auger tells ABC 6 that’s not enough time to figure out a Covid-19 plan.

“We can’t just throw this together at the last moment,” said Auger.

Auger says they want a set of policies in place to keep themselves and the students healthy.

“Our exposure, what other protocols, equipment, the cleansing of the buses and so on,” questioned Auger.

“Who’s going to take the temperatures of the students at the bus stop? How is that all going
to play out?” said Pontarelli. “If a child is sick at the bus stop, do they bring them in to infect the whole bus?”

To further complicate reopening, the union says striking isn’t off the table, though they will continue to try and negotiate.

“If they can’t work out the differences I think we’d like to know that sooner rather than later,” said Dwyer.

In a statement a spokesperson for Durham School Services simply said they will continue to negotiate in good faith.

Though there is no plan to strike as of now, the union and drivers are planning a rally at Cumberland High School July 30.

Categories: Back to School, Coronavirus, News, Rhode Island