Supporters of disgruntled DeKalb County school bus drivers updated reporters Friday on the status of negotiations between drivers and school district officials.

In an earlier news release announcing Friday's press conference, members of a group called DeKalb Drivers United said ongoing talks between bus drivers and school district officials were not working.

"Meeting after meeting, drivers have brought their concerns to the board and received no acknowledgment of their concerns and no decisive action to respond to them," said the news release.

When the cameras started rolling, however, speakers softened their stance, thanking the school district for making some changes and beginning to address bus drivers concerns over pay, benefits and working conditions.

"It's a good start," said Marion Payne, who was fired after his involvement in an organized sick-out in April, "but there's still a long way to go."

Some 450 school bus drivers called in sick April 19-21 in protest of their treatment. The school district immediately fired six drivers for organizing the sick-out, pointing out that it's against Georgia law for public employees to participate in a strike.

Earlier this month, Superintendent Dr. R. Stephen Green sent letters to those fired drivers informing them they could reapply for their jobs, but they would work under a six-month probationary period if rehired.

“As an olive branch or a gesture, we’ve offered them a chance to reapply for their positions,” Green said.

“Why would I want to walk into that?” asked Payne, adding that he won't be returning for medical reasons.

He told reporters he believes many bus drivers are still unhappy with their pay and benefits but that most don't want to discuss their concerns publicly because they're afraid they'll lose their jobs.

“A lot of the drivers are afraid to speak up when they’re getting treated bad," Payne said. "They’re acting like we’re back in slavery."

Green, the superintendent, had a much different assessment of the situation. He told CBS46 Friday that his ongoing meetings with a committee of drivers has brought forth a number of improvements.

"We've been able to add not only additional drivers, but monitors and dispatch workers. That’s what they said they wanted," said Green. "A.2.5 percent increase to their salary. Also, I’ll be bringing to the board next month an enhancement to their retirement package.”

Green said the district will continue to address driver concerns, one-by-one.

Copyright 2018 Meredith Corporation (WGCL-TV) All rights reserved

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