Court, state board say Dayton school bus drivers holding illegal strike

Drivers union appears to have disagreeing factions

The State Employment Relations Board ruled Monday that dozens of unionized Dayton Public Schools bus drivers engaged in an unauthorized strike when they called in sick en masse Friday and Monday.

According to testimony at the SERB hearing, 79 of 141 Dayton schools drivers called in sick Friday, and 47 called in sick on Monday. DPS Executive Director of Transportation Torronce Jackson said it’s normal for about 15 drivers per day to call off work for any reason.

Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli testified Monday at the SERB hearing that the drivers' actions, taken with no advance notice, left families and the district in a bad spot.

“It leaves students standing out in the dark (at bus stops). It also causes parents to either have to call off work and stay home, or scramble to find (childcare),” Lolli said. “Students who are supposed to be attending and learning are not able to get to school.”

The school district also filed a complaint in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court late Friday, where Judge Timothy O’Connell granted the school district’s request for a temporary restraining order, “enjoining defendants from continuing the strike.”

O’Connell wrote that “the court cannot determine the extent of the union’s involvement in the unlawful strike. However the court finds that the individual defendants are engaged in an unlawful strike” in violation of their union contract and Ohio law.

O’Connell’s ruling means any employees who participated in an unauthorized strike will not receive pay or other compensation for the days in question.

Jim Gollings, a regional director of the statewide OAPSE union, said at the SERB hearing that no union leadership, in Dayton or otherwise, had any role in encouraging or coordinating driver absences Friday. He pointed out that the union president was at work Friday.

The bus drivers, represented by the Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 627, have been in negotiations with the school district for months over their contract, which expired this summer. Negotiators for the two sides reached a tentative agreement last month, but the drivers rejected that deal.

In the meantime, the parties are operating under the terms of the expired contract, which says DPS will not lock out drivers, and there shall be no “strike, stoppage, slowdown or other interruption of work” by the drives.

Testimony at Monday’s SERB meeting and an affidavit submitted by the district appears to show a split among Dayton’s driver union, where a new driver became president of the local union this fall. Attorneys representing DPS suggested a recent past president of the drivers union urged members to stage a “sick-out.”

Jackson submitted an affidavit from one driver who said she was approached Thursday by multiple other drivers, asking her to come to a meeting that night and “not to let the union know” — apparently referring to union leadership, as all of the drivers are part of the union.

During the SERB hearing, Gollings and OAPSE attorney Thomas Drabick said DPS had presented no evidence that the drivers in question did not have symptoms of illness, which, during a surging COVID-19 pandemic, would make it the right thing for them to stay home.

But SERB Board Chair Craig Zimpher said the evidence of many employees meeting Thursday night then calling in within a short time span Friday morning, supported the board’s ruling.

Gollings did say he communicated with Dayton drivers on Sunday, informing them of the court injunction, and telling them if they are symptom-free, they should report to work.

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