Originally created 01/27/01

Union seeks meeting with school officials



The union group trying to organize Columbia County school bus drivers has requested via letter a meeting with school officials, board members and concerned parents.

But requesting a meeting and getting one are two different things.

The letter, which was received by School Superintendent Tommy Price on Friday, is a follow-up to the Teamsters Local 528's appearance at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

Mr. Price said he will seek legal advice before sitting down with union representatives, who under Georgia law do not have collective bargaining power.

"We are planning a meeting with the bus drivers Feb. 5, but that doesn't have anything to do with the letter we just received today," Mr. Price said Friday afternoon. "I don't know how we'll be responding to that letter. I don't think we're at a point where any of our employees need a liaison to open channels of communication. ... My position is that anything that's a legitimate issue we need to address it."

School officials and board members said they were shocked when Teamster representatives appeared before the board, because they have not had any recent or ongoing complaints from the drivers.

"We were all rather surprised we had drivers who felt like we had not been open and sensitive to concerns when they would bring them forward," Mr. Price said.

John Quinn, an attorney for the Teamsters, told the board that the drivers want to do away with the double-track system - a scheduling system that combines middle and high schoolers on the same buses and, they say, creates overcrowding on buses.

But they say they also want safety issues, training, the availability of substitute drivers and pay equity addressed by the board.

Mr. Quinn said 100 of the system's 135 bus drivers have signed a card signifying their interest in unionizing. Some of the drivers at the meeting said their complaints to the board have fallen on deaf ears, but the Jan. 9 death of Aleana Johnson - a kindergartener who was crushed under the wheels of her school bus - has spurred them into action.

Board Chairman Roxanne Whitaker and other members said they had no idea there was dissatisfaction among the system's drivers.

"I wish they had come to us before they had come to this drastic measure," Ms. Whitaker said. "... They have not gone through the proper channels, and that disturbs me. How much sensationalism is this? I would hope that they would feel comfortable coming to talk to me. This is something we could have done as a board if they had just come to us."

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.