After four leaders in the union representing Boston’s school bus drivers were fired this month, more than 200 people gathered Saturday in front of a bus yard in Dorchester to call for their reinstatement and for an end to what they called union-busting practices.
Stevan Kirschbaum, Steve Gillis, Andre Francois, and Garry Murchison were fired for what the company said was the organization of an illegal strike on Oct. 8, when most buses never drove off their lots and many of the 30,000 students who take school buses each morning were left without transportation.
The leaders of United Steelworkers of America Local 8751 said they would have been willing to work that day had Veolia Corp., which has managed Boston’s school buses since July, agreed to a meeting with them to discuss working conditions and their existing contract.
On Saturday, they insisted again that Veolia officials had locked them out of the yards.
“We’re just sick and tired of taking their junk, and the city won’t step in,” said Robert Traynham, who has been driving a Boston school bus since 1978. “But we’re gonna fight them . . . We want all four employees back.”
The workers said they planned to meet Thursday at the Boston Teachers Union Hall to further discuss and vote on the issues.
Though the Dorchester crowd was large Saturday, not all of the union’s members support the group — the local’s president, Dumond Louis, has in the past said the workers were part of an illegal strike.
Veolia spokeswoman Valerie Michael confirmed that four employees were fired because they “had led and instigated this illegal walkout.”
All other drivers who did not report to a dispatch window on Oct. 8 received letters of reprimand, she said.
Another employee, Richard Lynch, was fired and reinstated.
Two of the four fired were notified this past week, and two had been fired the week prior.
School Department spokesman Brian Ballou called the union’s assertions that the event was a lockout and not a strike “absolutely false.”
“We think that these demonstrations continue to be led by now-former employees of Veolia, and we think that the majority of bus drivers are eager to get back to work, eager for things to return to normalcy,” Ballou said.
City Councilor Charles C. Yancey, who was also outside the Freeport Street bus yard Saturday, has called for a hearing to look into whether Veolia violated its contract with the school department or the union.
Chuck Turner, a former city councilor, who represented Roxbury and the South End for about a decade before being sentenced to federal prison on bribery charges in 2010, spoke to the crowd from the bed of a white pickup truck, drawing cheers.
Turner returned to Boston in July after serving 28 months in prison. He said he hoped the union’s prior gains would not be undone.
“They have pensions, they have a decent salary, they have working conditions,” Turner said. “What meaning does a political democracy have if there are no economic rights?”
A group of about 30 union workers and parent activists came to the protest from New York City, and other labor activists from as far as Baltimore and Seattle spoke to the crowd.
Andre Francois, a chief union steward in the Charlestown bus yard, said he received the news of his firing in a letter slid under the door of his home this week. Still, he said, he was confident he would soon be back at the helm of a yellow bus.
“No doubt, we’re going back to our jobs. We didn’t do anything illegal,” he said. “We engaged in legal, consecrated union action.”