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Martin Walsh must reject bus drivers’ revisionist history

Reasonable people can disagree about whether the punishment meted out to the school bus drivers who led October’s wildcat strike was appropriate. Five drivers were fired for organizing the work stoppage, which was carried out without the approval of the union’s president, violated the terms of the drivers’ collective bargaining agreement, and left children stranded on sidewalks across the city. One of the fired drivers has since been rehired. But rather than simply asking for leniency for the other four, defenders of the drivers are trying to rewrite history, claiming that there was never a strike in the first place.

Instead, backers of the drivers are promoting a narrative in which the Oct. 8 event was actually a management lockout. They’re asking Mayor Marty Walsh to pressure the company that operates the drivers, Veolia, to rehire the fired drivers.

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This dishonest tactic insults the intelligence of the public, and it’s disappointing that mainstream labor leaders associated themselves with it by endorsing last week’s rally for the drivers. If what happened in October wasn’t a strike, why did the union itself call it one at the time (the United Steelworkers, parent of the drivers’ local, asked the drivers to “immediately cease this strike”)? If the doors at the bus yards were locked that morning, how did the drivers get inside in the first place? For that matter, why did drivers bring signs and megaphones to the bus yard if they had been planning to drive that day?

The facts are that a group within the drivers’ union made their decision to stop work, and now the drivers are unhappy with the consequences. They have every right to contest the firings with the National Labor Relations Board. But the drivers are not entitled to their own version of the facts. As Walsh said on the day of the strike, “The bus drivers have put our children in harm’s way. This is an illegal action. . . This is a violation of the contract and cannot be tolerated.” He was right then, and there’s no reason for him to change his tune now.

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