STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. — At a July 20 news conference, DeKalb County school bus driver Marion “Sergeant” Payne told reporters that a 2.5 percent wage increase recently approved by the board of education was “a good start, but if we didn’t have that sickout that never would have happened.”
More than 400 of some 900 county school bus drivers had called off sick April 19. Several hundred also did so April 22 and 23. They got sick over pay, working conditions, retirement benefits, safety and dignity on the job. They also face the lack of air conditioning on many buses, poor maintenance on brakes and the lack of a place to rest in between split shifts.
Seven school bus drivers, including Payne, were fired after board officials charged them with organizing and passing out fliers for the sickout.
These officials had long ignored the conditions drivers face, workers at the press conference said. The sickout took place at the same time that teachers, bus drivers, and other school workers organized walkouts and protests in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado, North Carolina and elsewhere.
Supporters of the fired bus drivers protested at news conferences and a downtown rally after the firings. At the May and June school board meetings, parents, workers from a DeKalb County Walmart, members of the community group Restore DeKalb and others demanded they rehire the drivers.
“For the record, several school board members have made it clear that the fired bus drivers would be rehired and made whole,” Joel Edwards of Restore DeKalb said at the July 20 news conference, held outside the pre-opening-of-school annual meeting for school bus drivers.
Superintendent R. Stephen Green, however, had sent letters to the drivers a few days earlier saying any drivers who were rehired would have to serve a six-month probationary period.
Curtis Howard, international vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union and a 24-year maintenance electrician at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, also attended the press conference. He pledged his union’s support for the bus drivers’ continuing fight to win reinstatement — and for all their demands.