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Solidarity prevails in Rockford privatization fight

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By AFSCME Council 31 Worth the Fight Privatization

Bus drivers for Rockford, Illinois, Public Schools who are part of AFSCME Local 1275 (Council 31) banded together to oppose District 205’s plan to outsource school bus services to a private, for-profit corporation – and they prevailed.

After a lengthy bid process and with a public hearing looming on Tuesday, the district informed AFSCME on March 27 that no bids would be accepted and that the district would not pursue outsourcing for the upcoming school year.

“Amazing. That’s the only word I have for it,” said Local 1275 Executive Board member Catina Barnett. “You fight, and you fight, and all of a sudden you win. Because we stuck together as a union our dreams are coming true.

“It was all about teamwork,” she said. “Making the phone calls, sending the emails, showing up to the board meetings. It also has to do with history. We went on strike last year and I think management remembers that. Sticking together is what has always made the difference.”

Standing up for what’s right

The news is good for both drivers and students as privatization is proven to put student safety and dedicated school bus drivers' livelihoods on the line.

The experience of other school districts shows that when bus services are privatized, corporations cut corners to maximize profit, putting the safety of children at risk, taking accountability out of the hands of residents, and undermining wages and benefits for drivers who live in the community.

Offering public testimony backed by a crowd of supporters, AFSCME members urged the school board at their Feb. 26 meeting to put student safety first and say no to outsourcing.

“I know how important it is to have drivers who care about safety and take pride in their jobs because I hear from parents all the time who thank us for getting their kids safely to school,” Darrell Freeman told the board. “A for-profit company would be bad for drivers, our families and all the families we serve. Think about it – how does a private school bus company make a profit? The only way is by squeezing workers and shortchanging kids’ safety.”

Looking ahead

“This is a huge victory, but the fight isn’t over,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “The district cancelled their plans for this school year, but as we know from experience that they will likely try again. We need to stay vigilant and ready for the challenges ahead. For now, RPS school bus drivers will continue to provide the high-quality services so critical to the safety of RPS students.”

Barnett and her co-workers are ready to stand strong at the bargaining table. And after driving Rockford’s schoolchildren for more than 20 years, Barnett is ready to keep a smile on her face every school morning and at the end of each day.

“I love seeing their faces every day,” she said. “I know that if someone is struggling you can brighten them up by saying something positive to them on the way home. That means the world.”