7/18/07

Teamsters shocked by KY school board rejection

The Bullitt County Board of Education tonight voted 3-2 not to recognize a union that supporters said would provide more stability and fairness for the district's 115 bus drivers. "I'm disappointed and shocked," said Teamsters 783 vice president John Stovall, who has been working with bus drivers to create the union. "It's cruel to do this to the very people they profess to care about."

Bus drivers have complained that their hours were continually decreased, they were assigned fewer field trips and senior drivers didn't get priority for the trips, which provide additional income.

Opponents of the union said it wasn't necessary because they trust the board to work out any problems. "I always found that if I go to my supervisors or use my chain of commands, I've always been able to work any problems out," said Virginia Buehler, who has worked with the district for 22 years. "I haven't had many major issues, other than discipline issues with the children."

A committee, formed by the board last month, recommended to the board in a five-page report presented tonight to reject the union.

The committee members were board attorney Eric Farris, school board member Tom Rogers, assistant superintendent of personnel Helen Harrah, Freedom Elementary principal Terry Price and Eastside Middle School principal Bonita Franklin.

Principals were assigned to the committee because bus drivers have complained that many field trips were handled by transportation companies — a decision often made by principals or decision-making councils.

Committee members met five times at the central office, Farris said. Meetings consisted of talking with bus drivers for and against the union as well as with Linda Belcher, who has served as the transportation department's interim director for the past year.

The report said many drivers' complaints were misunderstandings and could be resolved by the board.

"Unions are typically needed where work conditions are dangerous, jobs are at risk of being exported and/or raises/benefits have been historically unequal between employment groups," the report said. "These conditions are not present in the Bullitt County Transportation Department."

The committee also recommended that the board create a task force to periodically address bus driver complaints. That task force could be created within the next few weeks, Farris said.

The district's next superintendent also should make employee relations a "primary focus," the report said.

Board members Michael Robison and Sammy Allen voted for recognizing the union.

"Many of the issues that the drivers brought to us 15 months ago still haven't been resolved," Allen said. "I don't see why they haven't been fixed."

Member Gary Wooldridge said he voted against the union because he didn't want for all the drivers to have to pay dues.

Last month, transportation employees voted 57-54 to join Teamsters Local 783. A few of the 115 employees did not vote. The vote was conducted to indicate to the board whether enough bus drivers wanted to join the union.

Tonight's vote could provoke more division and dissent among bus drivers, many drivers said tonight.

"We put up a good fight," said driver Brenda Murray, who was for the union. "We got a lot of our issues across to them. But there are going to continue to be issues."

Stovall said that he'll be talking to lawyers about other options. He also said they will campaign against the board members who voted against them.

"We're not just going to walk away from this," he said.

(courier-journal.com)

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