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updated: 2/8/2011 3:22 PM

Private-sector school bus drivers now unionized in Antioch

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Antioch-area school bus drivers working for a private company have voted to join a union because of a cited desire for higher pay, safer vehicles and affordable medical insurance.

Drivers from Durham School Services voted 29-14 in favor of joining Teamsters Local 301 in Waukegan. The results from the Sept. 10 election were made public this week.

Durham spokeswoman Carina Noble didn't return telephone or e-mail messages Thursday. School districts typically cite cost savings as a reason to seek private busing from companies that ordinarily don't employ union drivers.

Local 301's business agent and trustee, Jim Florkiewicz, said the Antioch private-sector bus drivers were the first to affiliate with the Teamsters in Lake and McHenry counties. There is a nationwide push to get Durham, First Student Inc. and Septran Inc. drivers in the Teamsters.

"It's been kind of a chain reaction around the country," Florkiewicz said Thursday.

Florkiewicz said the 45 drivers now in the Teamsters work Durham's routes for Antioch-Lake Villa Area High School District 117 and Grass Lake Elementary District 36. They mostly transport students for Antioch Community High School and Lakes Community High School in Lake Villa.

In promoting a "yes" vote, union supporters said the Teamsters would help the Antioch drivers gain better pay, safer buses, more respect and affordable health insurance. Florkiewicz declined to reveal average driver pay or specifically what may be troubling about some of the buses.

Florkiewicz said it's hoped negotiations for the drivers' first union deal with Durham begin shortly.

District 117 does not own any buses, Business Manager Jennifer Nolde said. She said the district is in the first of a three-year contract with Durham worth about $2 million to the company for the 2010-11 academic season.

At least 27,000 drivers, monitors, mechanics, aides and attendants at school bus companies across the country have joined the Teamsters since the unionization campaign started in 2006, officials said.

Six-year Antioch bus driver Linda Stewart said she was excited after learning the vote's outcome.

"I am looking forward to a better working environment and to being treated fairly and with respect," Stewart said in a statement.