Update | By Katie Rucke
The strike first began on Jan. 16 after the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced the city was to put its contracts with private bus companies up for bid in order to save money. But the Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union wanted the new contracts to include job protections for current drivers.
According to a local ABC affiliate, despite the strike, some bus drivers continued driving their routes last week because they were not union members. In total, about 2,320 bus routes out of 7,700 were still operating.
In an interview with MintPress, Margie Feinberg, a spokesperson for the New York Department of Education, said because the drivers are not public employees, the city can’t legally negotiate with them, but added they are open to having a discussion.
But as Maggie McKeon, spokesperson for the union told MintPress, the president of the union, Michael Cordiello, asked last week to sit down with the mayor and chancellor and have an open dialogue, but he has yet to hear back from them.
In the meantime, the drivers are still picketing across the city and, as McKeon told MintPress, finding support from community members who agree with the union about the importance of having an experienced workforce behind the wheel.
When asked whether or not the city was receiving support or criticism from parents affected by the strike, Feinberg told MintPress that the city acknowledges not having bus routes operating is a struggle, but highlights the alternative transportation options the city has put in place, including taxis and car service.
And according to Feinberg, the alternative transportation seems to be working. “The attendance was down a little bit the first day but is holding steady,” she said. Adding, “Principals are working with individual parents who have specific concerns.”
There are no reports regarding negotiations or discussions between the city and the union, and if the bus company owners have their way, they won’t have to wait for the two conflicting sides to come to an agreement to end the strike.
The bus company owners have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and will testify Tuesday. After the board hears from the union and the owners, the board will rule whether the strike is legal. If it’s ruled illegal, that could end the walkout.
(MintPress) – Starting at 6 a.m. on Wednesday about 8,000 New York City school bus drivers and aides, those who help kids on and off buses, from Amalgamated Transit Union went on strike after the city decided to put its contracts with private bus companies up for bid, something Mayor Michael Bloomberg argues the city must do in order to save money.
The U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids in public schools from the ages of five through 18. While public schools across the nation struggle, many private companies are preying on their vulnerability and offering to take over. From lesson plans to computers, private companies are investing in schools and slowly taking over the public education system, which threatens the salaries of those employees.
Part of what led to the strike is that the union wanted job protection for current drivers in the new contracts. The city denied the request citing the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, wouldn’t allow such an inclusion because of competitive bidding laws. However, the union argues that’s simply not true and says drivers could suddenly lose their jobs when contracts expire at the end of June.
According to New York labor lawyer Stuart Lichten, both Bloomberg and the drivers are right.
“If [city officials] are saying that they can’t keep the exact same provision, they’re probably right,” he said. Adding, “But if they’re saying they can’t work to make sure these employees are protected, with just a little bit of imagination, I think they’re wrong.
“Any procedure having an anticompetitive effect on the bidding process can only be justified on the basis of saving the public money, or causing the contract to be performed without disruption.”
Lichten says what can happen is this: “[The city] could require that the bus drivers have certain amounts of experience or certain qualifications, like maybe licenses,” which he argues could be justified “on the grounds that maybe it doesn’t lower costs, but it certainly prevents disruption of service.”
As a result of the strike, about 152,000 students, many of whom are disabled, have to find alternative ways to get to school.
On its website, the union has a link to a petition asking for support during the strike, especially from parents affected by it. In a post they ask parents who they would want driving their child’s school bus: “A highly skilled, trained, and experienced driver who knows our children and community, or someone learning on the job?”
To ensure kids get to school during the strike, some bus routes in the city are currently being operated by other unions. Since a majority of the city’s some 1.1 million public school students use public transportation or walk, the strike mostly impacts special education students and those who live far from schools or transportation.
Many parents are relying on the subway system and carpools until the strike subsides. The city plans to help parents afford alternatives to school transportation from the buses by issuing transit cards to students who could take buses and subways and plans to reimburse parents who have to drive or take taxis.
Matthew Mosca is a parent affected by the strike. His 5-year-old daughter, Ella, usually takes the bus from their home on Manhattan’s East Side, but because of the strike had to take a taxi. On Wednesday, they took a taxi. “It’s an inconvenience but I support the strike,” Mosca said.
Alicia Vuscemi is a parent living on Staten Island. With three children at three different schools she said she felt a little more frazzled about the strike than those with easier access to public transportation. Vuscemi’s son goes to school in Brooklyn and was pleasantly surprised when a bus arrived to pick him up Wednesday morning. “I was still trying to figure out how he was going to get there,” she said.
Though a bus came to pick up her son on Wednesday, Vuscemi expressed concerns about the length of the bus strike. “Is it really going to last a while?”
The last time New York City saw a bus strike was in 1979, and the strike lasted for 14 weeks. When asked how long he thinks the strike will last, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said, “This will go however long it goes. We have systems in place to support our parents and students.”
He added: “We’re not negotiating. They want us to do something illegal. We can’t do that at all. We’re always open for communication … It’s not our responsibility and job to negotiate. They work for private companies.”
New York City doesn’t directly hire the bus drivers or the aides — they work for private companies that have city contracts. And according to union President Michael Cordiello, the drivers make an average of about $35,000 a year, starting at $14 an hour with the potential to make up to $29 an hour with overtime.
Bloomberg told Fox 5 News that while he doesn’t think it’s time to bring the striking union to court, “It’s not clear if all the members are striking. It’s (the walkout) not something that will help them. They will lose out on pay,” Bloomberg explained as he characterized the union’s actions as illegal.
In response to Bloomberg’s statements, Cordiello asked, “How is it illegal to provide the most experienced drivers and matrons in the school buses?”
The New York Department of Education Teamsters will not be striking with the bus drivers, but Danny Gatto, president of Teamsters Local 854 said the groups will be honoring picket lines, adding that Bloomberg is the “one party responsible for the possible job action by unionized bus drivers represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union.”
MintPress requested a statement from the union, but our calls were not returned.