Fairborn schools say late call-offs by bus drivers forced closure; union says no strike authorized

Fairborn school bus

Fairborn schools canceled in-person classes Monday due to unexpected absences in its busing operation and is investigating if it was part of a union dispute.

“The district instructed its students remotely today due to a high volume of its transportation personnel calling off sick on very short notice,” Fairborn Superintendent Gene Lolli said in a statement. “We do not have information to indicate this unexpected, high volume of work absences is due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among our bus drivers.”

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Lolli also released a letter that he sent to the Dayton Public Service Union, the union that represents the drivers, which is part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The letter says 22 bus drivers were absent Monday. District officials said on a normal day the district uses about 60 drivers.

“The district is currently investigating whether the actions by certain absent bus drivers amount to an unauthorized strike, which includes any stoppage, slowdown or interruption of work,” Lolli’s letter says.

If drivers violate the contract’s terms on an unauthorized strike, “the district will impose discipline up to and including termination,” the letter says.

The district planned to file a motion for a temporary restraining order in court, Lolli said, and an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the State Employment Relations Board “to stop this behavior from occurring in the future.”

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The Dayton Daily News could not reach drivers from the sub-local union that directly serves Fairborn schools on Monday afternoon. Ann Lieberman, president of the region-wide Dayton Public Service Union, said she was just learning of the issue late Monday afternoon.

“Clearly, we haven’t authorized any kind of strike or work stoppage or slowdown or anything,” she said. “I wish I had a clear response for you, but at this point we’re looking into it ourselves.”

Stacey Benson-Taylor, regional director of AFSCME Council 8, said the parent union is following up with local representatives to understand the situation.

“Obviously if there are safety concerns, we have a path that we utilize — labor-management meetings to discuss those,” she said. “We wouldn’t authorize or even consider a strike for those things.”

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Fairborn schools have had more issues with COVID-19 than most schools locally. Both the primary school and the intermediate school closed their doors and moved back to remote learning for 10 days due to issues with positive tests and quarantining within the past month. The high school is doing remote learning this week, and the football team forfeited its playoff game last weekend due to COVID issues.

Lolli said Fairborn schools' plan is to hold in-person classes Tuesday unless a large number of drivers are absent again. He said the district would call and email parents with any new developments.

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