Bus drivers confront corruption, union-busting

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MADISON, Ohio – Over 200 rallied here July 22 in a boisterous show of support for embattled school bus drivers whose jobs were terminated when their contract expired in June and the Board of Education implemented a plan to privatize transportation.

“We want the Board to rescind its decision and negotiate with the union,” said Gina Knapp, a driver for 19 years and president of Local 238 of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE). She said the 45 drivers together with seven mechanics and two aides as well as community supporters, have been picketing the school district office twice a week. Residents of the town of 3,000, about 35 miles east of Cleveland, are circulating petitions demanding resignation of the board and reinstatement of the drivers.

“This is both a union and community issue,” OAPSE Regional Director Lloyd Rains told the cheering crowd. “They are ripping jobs out of Madison. If they get away with it here, this will spread like wildfire in the surrounding areas.”

“Big business has been sucking on our community for profit,” said Davida Russell, Northeast Ohio vice president of the union. “They don’t see the children or their well-being,” she added. “They only see greed. Privatization does not work.”

Public pressure on behalf of the union has been growing as evidenced by a press conference July 14 held by Congressman Steve LaTourette. Together with Republican colleagues State Sen. Tim Grendell and State Rep. Carol-Ann Schindel, LaTourette criticized the school district’s “take it or leave it” approach to labor negotiations and the misuse of a state law permitting privatization.

“Somebody has cherry-picked apart House Bill 66,” Grendell said. “It was never intended to be a labor-busting device.”

If the district agrees “to bargain in good faith,” LaTourette and Grendell pledged to get the district out of the contract it signed with Community Bus Services (CBS), the private company based in Youngstown, which is set to take over hiring and management of transportation employees.

Union officials charged that the contract with CBS is corrupt, since it was awarded without bids and the company’s owner, Terry Thomas, is a 20-year friend of Assistant School Superintendent Matt Chojnacki.

Under the contract, which Board officials claim would save $1.5 million over five years, the district would still own and service the buses. The only possible cost savings would be at the expense of wages, benefits and overtime pay, Rains said. OAPSE is pursuing legal action and has filed unfair labor charges with the State Employee Relations Board.