The Teamsters union has filed complaints of unlawful dismissals against two companies that operate school buses for the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, claiming five drivers were fired for trying to get fellow employees to join the labor organization.
"There's no question they were fired because of their union activity," said Mike Torpey, a Teamsters business agent. "One was fired right before the company votes and four were fired afterward."
Union votes were conducted this month at Edwin D. Bell and Sons, Owens Charter Bus Co, Proutt Lines Inc., and R. E. Wilson and Sons Inc., Mr. Torpey said.
In each case, the Teamsters lost.
The National Labor Relations Board, which is awaiting responses from the Edwin D. Bell and Owens companies, has not set a hearing date.
Linda Richardson, who was dismissed from Edwin D. Bell, said the drivers for the contractors decided to try to get union representation after learning that drivers employed directly by the Board of Education generally earned from $2,000 to $5,000 more annually.
She is one of the drivers represented in the complaint.
"We need to let somebody know this is unfair," she said. "What we're saying is, yes, your employer may be nice to you, but he's not being good to you."
The other employees who were fired worked for Owens, Mr. Torpey said.
Officials from Owens could not be reached, but a spokesman for Edwin D. Bell denied Ms. Richardson was fired because of union activity.
"The lady who actually initiated the union vote is still here," said John Bell. "The other woman who was replaced was not physically able to come back when school started. Anne Arundel County pays me to have school buses on the road."
Ms. Richardson, who has landed a job with another bus company, said injuries from a car accident prevented her from returning to work at the start of school, but added she had been assured a job.
She said she is remaining quiet on union issues these days, but is pleased the Teamsters acted on her behalf.
There are 54 contractors that provide school bus service and pay varying wages, while the school board operates 69 buses and pays its own drivers on a salary scale set in a contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Winship Wheatley, supervisor of transportation for the school board, said school bus contractors are paid on a formula that includes a certain amount per hour, per mile and per day.
"Essentially what we pay per contract hour is $11.35, and in addition we pay another 23 percent for every hour for the use of the bus," Mr. Wheatley said. "What happens is that some people feel that's a wage rate, and somewhere in the middle is the truth."
Mr. Wheatley said the school board does not specify the wage that contractors should pay bus drivers, but did insist that a 2 percent raise in January and a 4 percent raise in July be passed directly to the drivers.
"That's the only time we've ever done that," he said. "With respect to the labor issue between the contractors and their people, we do not take a position.
"We do hope our contractors follow the law regarding labor relations issues."
Mr. Torpey said he did not know whether the employees of the private bus companies would try again to organize. "It'll be a year before we could try again," he said.