PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Members of a local union have authorized a strike vote over claims the school bus company they work for “repeatedly failed to address critical health, safety and economic concerns of workers.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328 says school bus drivers, monitors and aides authorized the work action against Durham School Services, which serves Cumberland Public Schools and two charter school systems: Blackstone Valley Prep and Providence Mayoral Academy.

The Providence-based union, which was formed last September and represents more than 11,000 workers in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, says the vote followed “months of cancelled and stalled negotiations.”

The union claims Durham has not taken the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and refused to offer additional sick time to any workers who contract the disease.

“The company has refused to commit to the most basic safety protocols including temperature and symptom checks of students at bus stops, has failed to properly train workers on cleaning protocols and health hazards associated with cleaning products and has refused to hire an outside cleaning company to deep clean buses,” the union said in a statement.

“The company has even gone as far as describing COVID-19 as comparable to the flu,” the statement continued. “Refusing to take the virus seriously is an insult to the workers and unnecessarily puts lives at stake.”

Additionally, union leaders say Durham has offered up “meager pay” for bus drivers, which keeps them “earning far below industry standards and surrounding bus yards.”

A date for the strike vote has not yet been set, according to the union, though both sides said they plan to resume negotiations on Thursday.

Edward Flavin, the director of communications for Durham’s parent company, National Express, said in terms of safety, the company “[has] been and will continue to be a leader in our industry.”

“The safety of our employees and passengers is our number one priority,” he said. “We have been continuing to negotiate in good faith with the UFCW team and are scheduled for another meeting this coming Thursday, September 17.”

“We have proposed an economic packet for their review and do not believe that at this time that they have replied with an acceptance or a counter offer for our review,” Flavin added.

Flavin also sent 12 News three documents outlining Durham’s COVID-19 protocols:

PDF: COVID-19 Response » | Cleaning and Disinfecting » | Product Information »

More Back to School Headlines