Fighting for Her Younger Colleagues, Youngest Students

by Cynthia McCabe  |  November 06, 2011

Karen Holdridge
Ohio school bus driver Karen Holdridge (OAPSE Local 3366) has spent the past eight months working to defeat Issue 2 and repeal Senate Bill 5. (Photo by Tessa Berg)

GAHANNA, OHIO – School bus driver Karen Holdridge knows that she’s going to retire in a few years. So her decision to spend eight months knocking on doors, urging people to petition and vote against Issue 2 isn’t about her so much as it is about those just starting their work at her bus compound.

“I want a good working environment for the young people I work with,” says Holdridge, an Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE/AFSCME Local 4) Local 3366 member who has been driving for Columbus Public Schools for 16 years. “So many of them are raising families with young children and I want the best life possible for them.”

But Issue 2 targets those Ohio working families. If not defeated in a referendum vote this Tuesday it would eliminate the right of public workers to collectively bargain their wages, health insurance, pensions and other benefits. It could lead to layoffs of public workers, including firefighters, nurses and EMTs, threatening public safety, and cause class sizes and transportation loads to balloon if teachers and drivers are laid off.

“I love working with kids,” says Holdridge, who transports elementary, middle and high school students. She is a consistent presence for them, giving them leeway when they’re abiding by the rules of Bus No. 70 and making them her “new best friends” up front when they’re not. “I can see the difference I make with them,” she says.

When it comes to canvassing, Holdridge’s energy is impressive. Her personal best is visiting 159 houses in one day and urging residents to vote ‘No!’ on Issue 2. She collected seven books of signatures during the fight to get Issue 2 put to a vote on Election Day. She’s now a union steward, but Holdridge hasn’t always been such a vocal activist.

“In years past I was always in the background,” says Holdridge, a petite woman who is as comfortable now talking about union activism as she is joking about whether God had something to do with the unseasonably warm Ohio weather making campaigning easier this week. Seven years ago, with her three children grown, Holdridge decided it was time to get active in the affairs governing her life.

“Everyone else had had their say so it was time for me to get involved,” she says.

With that, it wasn’t just on the road that Holdridge found herself in the driver’s seat.

You can join Holdridge by volunteering in these final days of the campaign to defeat Issue 2. Head to We Are Ohio to learn about volunteer opportunities in your area.

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