Dayton school bus drivers’ union: District ‘is forcing us out’ on strike

Bus drivers in Dayton Public Schools are unsatisfied with at least four elements of the tentative agreement with the district, prompting the drivers to vote for a strike that could strand more than 10,000 students amid student testing, according to an interview with OAPSE Local 627 leadership.

In a 30-minute Dayton Daily News interview, Jim Gollings, the Ohio Association of Public School Employees regional director and chief negotiator between the local union and the schools, would not say why the union selected the week of testing to walk out, instead saying the district “has forced us out” and “waiting until July isn’t an option because school is not in session.”

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“The employer is forcing us out,” Gollings said. “This is not in any way to cost the parents, or certainly not the students. Both of those are what’s important to us. People don’t drive buses to get rich, they drive to serve the community, and I think that’s what our drivers do.”

Four issues — retroactive pay (which would give drivers a raise on work already completed since July 1, when the contract expired), extra duty hours, wages and “mandating” drivers to go past the time of their shift — are remaining concerns for drivers, Gollings said.

The district has said it would pay a lump sum to drivers to address working most of this school year without raises. Gollings said the district did not want to calculate the actual post-raise pay drivers would have received had the contract been enacted in July.

The union official also said “extra duty” hours, such as hours drivers spend going on field trips, are a remaining issue.

“The contract currently has language that allows for extra duty to be spread out among all employees to ensure they have an opportunity to perform extra duty,” Gollings said. “The employer wants to rip this out of the contract and allow the same few drivers to soak up all the extra duty, and we feel that’s unfair.”

Gollings highlighted retroactive pay and extra duty as the unresolved issues, but remained guarded about unspecific “minor other ones” during the phone interview, saying he didn’t have his notes in front of him.

But pressed several times by the newspaper, Gollings eventually revealed two other issues. He said wages, though increased under the district’s proposal, would remain among the lowest in the area for drivers.

District Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli previously said the district has offered 10 to 15 percent raises to the drivers, which would take their starting pay from $13.85 per hour to roughly $15.75.

Mad River, Huber Heights and other districts pay starting drivers more than $18 per hour, though DPS officials have said other benefits close the hourly wage difference.

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Gollings also said drivers could be forced by the district to drive well beyond the end of their shift, causing frustrations for drivers who have second jobs, attend school, or must tend to children of their own.

“What they want to be able to do is to send me out in order to pick up children or do this or do that, (go to) a breakdown etc. That’s fine, we do that now. All you’ve got to do is ask,” Gollings said. “But what they want to do is to send me out when I have 20 minutes left on my shift, they want to send me out for an hour and 20 minutes, or four hours.”

Dayton Public Schools officials declined to comment when asked about the union’s positions. The district has previously said officials are not aware of the union’s remaining concerns.

“We have no further comments about negotiations,” said Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli in a statement. “The tentative agreements speak for themselves. The district has bargained in good faith.”

Marsha Bonhart Nielson, the district’s spokeswoman, said there is “no sense of when” the district might share alternative transportation plans for the more than 10,000 students in grades kindergarten through eighth-grade who ride the buses.

“There is an update, but there’s nothing that we care to discuss at this time,” she said.

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Staff Writer Jeremy P. Kelley contributed reporting.

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