Support school bus drivers fired for organizing!
Almost 400 school bus drivers in DeKalb County (Metro Atlanta) called in sick to work on April 19-20, and are continuing it on April 23, after a series of fruitless negotiations with the Dekalb County school board. In response to their mobilization, management has so far fired 8 workers by having school police deliver letters of termination to worker's homes intended to intimidate workers who have been involved with the sick-out. The letter reads:
"The District has received reliable information that you have personally encouraged and promoted the "sick-out" strike by bus drivers and monitors ... As a public employee, it is unlawful for you to encourage, promote, or participate in strike activity."
Drivers are calling for better pay that rewards experience and keeps up with rising costs of living, a better retirement package, and safer working conditions for drivers and students. DeKalb County school bus drivers are among the lowest paid in the state, facing exorbitant health care and living costs, despite not having received a pay increase since 2010. Meeting after meeting, drivers have brought their concerns to the board and received no acknowledgement of their concerns and no decisive action to respond to them. “We might be bus drivers, but we are highly educated. We see through you," said an anonymous bus driver who participated in the sick-out.
Management is leading a slander campaign against drivers, alleging that their actions have put students at risk. In a statement made on April 19, Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green alleged that drivers "pu[t] our children in harm’s way" when they didn't show up to work Thursday and Friday, despite a letter he delivered to parents Wednesday night asking them to make arrangements to bring their children to school. Another driver who wishes to remain anonymous shares: "We care about our students. You have to have a love for children to do this job for so many years." Drivers have reached into their own pockets when children go to school hungry and provided support for students when they can't afford school supplies. Management for years has forced both students and bus drivers to ride on unsafe buses that have neither air conditioning nor heating systems, and made drivers take on longer routes because of a persistent driver shortage.
"The Superintendent always says we are the first person the children meet in the morning, and the last person they see from school on their way home." Drivers point out that improving their work conditions also improves the safety and welfare of the children they transport to and from school. Management cut the transportation budget in half in 2013, leaving students on overcrowded "hot box" buses with no AC during the hot summer months. Parents have taken note too - they want their children's bus drivers to work in safe and just environments. Concerned parents are circulating a petition in support of the bus driver's demands.
With their sickout, the Dekalb County school bus drivers are picking up the torch that was lit by teachers and school bus drivers in West Virginia, and has been carried by education workers striking, waging sickouts, and mobilizing in New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Wisconsin (so far...). They are also following the successful example of paratransit drivers on Atlanta's MARTA system, who held a one-day strike on February 14th and threatened another one for April 18, until management caved to their demands at the eleventh hour. Workers across the country are taking direct action to address their needs on and off the job, and their bravery and coordination are paying off.
"We just want to be heard, and we want what we deserve," says another "sick-out" driver. "What we're asking for is reasonable. We want respect." The DeKalb County school bus drivers have brought the national movement of education workers to Georgia. They are the first workers in this movement to face immediate retaliation for their activity. Their sickout was organized entirely by themselves, without the involvement of any union. It is important for everyone who supports education workers to immediately stand behind them and demand their immediate reinstatement.
The Atlanta IWW and GDC are working with the drivers to fight for immediate reinstatement and for the district to meet their other demands. In the meantime, we want to make sure that the drivers who have been targeted don't suffer economically. This fund will be used to support those drivers, and to support their further organizing, in consultation with the drivers organizing committee.
Because an injury to one is an injury to all,
Atlanta Industrial Workers of the World /
Atlanta General Defense Committee