DPS leaders look for alternate transportation plans after bus drivers file notice to strike

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

DPS bus drivers intend to go on strike in April

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Dayton Public Schools leaders said they will immediately begin work on alternate student transportation plans after the union representing bus drivers filed a notice of their intent to strike April 10.

DPS and the 145-member bus drivers’ union, Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 627, have negotiated for nearly nine months without agreement on a new contract.

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A district news release issued Wednesday afternoon said the two sides had reached “an ultimate impasse in their negotiations,” and bus drivers provided notice of their intent to strike.

“To ensure that transportation services for students are not disrupted as a result of any strike, the board will immediately prepare a strike plan, including contracting with outside busing providers and providing information to parents about what to expect,” the Dayton Public Schools’ release said.

The strike would start after students return from spring break and would directly coincide with the start of state-required student testing.

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“It appears that the strike has been intentionally scheduled at a time to cause the district the most harm due to student testing,” the district said in its release. “In addition, the drivers have not explained to the board’s negotiating team what specific issues are actually causing the impasse.”

Officials from the union could not be reached Wednesday evening for comment.

The district had started the school year with uncertainty as the union representing teachers went down to the wire before reaching a contract agreement just days before a strike that would have disrupted the first days of classes. That contract is for two years, not three as initially sought, and offered 3 percent base salary increases each year.

In the bus driver talks, the two negotiation teams began work at the end of June when the contract expired. The sides have met multiple times since, and negotiators sought additional assistance from federal mediators for the last three sessions.

Salaries are at issue

The district’s release explained that bus drivers in negotiations from previous years had publicly said the board of education’s salary proposals “demonstrated a lack of respect for the hard work they perform.”

DPS said that in this round of negotiations, as early as September, the parties had come to a signed, tentative agreement as to all issues. The tentative agreement included what the district termed “a substantial wage increase” between 10 and 14 percent for all drivers depending upon years of experience.

The district said that, under the earlier tentative agreement, drivers would also receive an additional two percent increase for each of the subsequent two years of the contract and an additional step was added to the salary schedule to encourage drivers to remain in the district.

Drivers would have received a one-time lump sum payment for retroactive raises due during the period of negotiations, the district release said.

In its release, DPS touted the purchase last year of 115 new buses and called that “a sign that the board fully understands and respects the work that its bus drivers do.”

Drivers, however, did not ratify September’s tentative agreement. Instead, the district said the union filed an unfair labor charge with the state, accusing DPS of bad-faith bargaining.

For six months since then, the two sides returned to the bargaining table, and two federal mediators joined the sides at some of the talks.

Bus drivers union issued warning in December

In December, Titus Morrow, president of Dayton’s bus drivers union, addressed the school board with complaints about the district’s discipline process, communication with principals, and about drivers being “belittled” by administrators.

At the same meeting, Morrow said he was not optimistic about ongoing contract negotiations, calling the process “touch and go.”

The union has worked under terms of the contract that expired last summer. That deal called for new drivers to start at $13.85 per hour, while some neighboring districts such as Huber Heights and Mad River start at more than $18 per hour.

The district’s statement Wednesday said “additional wage increases were offered in exchange for some language in the contract that would enhance record-keeping, make driving assignments more efficient, and result in better coverage for students.”

DPS said drivers would get a starting salary increasing from $13.85 to $15.75 an hour and a bonus of $1,000 to $2,000.

Dayton Public Schools has a total of 11 different union groups, and all but the teachers began this school year working under the terms of contracts that expired in June. Many reached agreement with DPS during the school year.

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