Melanie Douglas, a fired DeKalb bus driver, reads a statement urging Superintendent Steve Green to reconsider recent terminations related to a driver sickout. (Marlon A. Walker / marlon.walker@ajc.com)

Some DeKalb bus drivers want district to reverse sickout terminations

About two dozen DeKalb school bus drivers and parents asked this morning that Superintendent Steve Green reinstate at least seven drivers fired for a sickout done to advocate for better pay and treatment.

The sickout on April 19, 20 and 23 resulted in about 700 absences over the three days. School police officers delivered termination letters to seven drivers the evening of April 19. Drivers say at least one other driver was fired for promoting the slowdown.

“The letter explicitly states that they’re being fired for encouraging or promoting a sickout, which is a violation of their free speech rights as well as the rights of drivers to act collectively to improve their conditions,” said Brandon Oliver of the Atlanta branch of the General Defense Committee, which advocates for collective bargaining rights, among other things. 

Oliver said the driver sickout was part of a larger movement of education workers across the country working for better conditions for themselves and their students, after years of underfunding. In February, Gov. Nathan Deal pushed to end a school funding deficit after more than a decade of austerity cuts. For transportation, state funding once covered half the districts’ costs; now, the state covers about 15 percent.

More drivers support efforts to “Reinstate the 8,” as the movement is called, but were hesitant to show their faces. 

“They’re scared,” said Melanie Douglas, a bus driver fired last week. She said Green “used a bullying tactic to get people back to work. For some households, this is the only money coming in.”

Efforts should be made to address bus driver pay concerns, she said, noting Green’s line that drivers are the first and last to see students on their daily education journeys.

“This district is top-heavy,” said Joel Edwards of Restore DeKalb, which advocates for elected official accountability. “The money is not funneling down to the workers.”

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