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US school bus concerns loom for National Express AGM

10 Jul 2014
Sebrina Isom from Teamster Local 509 explaining the safety conditions of Durham school buses to international visitors in Charleston

Concerns over labour practices at its US school bus business subsidiary, Durham School Services, threaten to affect National Express’ Annual General Meeting on 9 May in London.

Allegations by workers represented by the Teamsters Union over poor school bus safety, service and working conditions at Durham have resulted in the UK Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) urging its members to vote down National Express’ annual report. On 17 April LAPFF announced it had co-signed a statement calling on National Express to expand the remit of its safety and environment committee to include responsibility for strategy on management of staff and for the committee to report to shareholders on that work.

This move coincided with a fact-finding mission by a group of trade unionists from the ITF, as well as Unite the Union in the UK and German unions ver.di and EVG. National Express originates in the UK and is due to start operating two regional railways in Germany. In Charleston, South Carolina and Pensacola, Florida the group met school bus drivers who came together to share their concerns about Durham, the second-largest private school bus operator in the US.

In 2011, Durham paid US$ 7 million in a class action lawsuit over its failure to pay employees in California from 2005-2011. The National Labor Relations Board has issued 57 formal complaints against Durham since 2001, resulting in settlements. The complaints concerned allegations by workers that the company targeted those engaged in union organising with unfair treatment, surveillance and threats of reduced benefits and working conditions and even dismissal.

According to a Teamsters’ survey in the current school year, two thirds of the drivers and monitors surveyed in South Carolina had a bus that broke down when students were on board. In Florida, 93% had worked when ill, many in fear of management retribution or dismissal. In both locations, the mission heard cases of workers struggling to attend funerals of their closest kin.

Mac Urata, ITF inland transport section secretary, who took part in the mission, commented: “We thank the brave workers who shared their experiences with us. What we saw and heard in those two states are not isolated behaviours. Durham has a proven track record of treating its workers badly and anti-union behaviour. In Pensacola, the local managers did not even allow the international visitors to enter their premises. National Express must understand that the international community will hold it accountable for its actions wherever it operates.”

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