New York City’s schools chancellor, Dennis Walcott, says school bus drivers should take up their dispute with the court, not on the children.
Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union announced Monday that more than 8,000 bus drivers and matrons would participate in a strike, beginning Wednesday. The strike had been threatened for weeks. Local 1181 is the largest school bus drivers’ union, providing transportation for 152,000 public school students — 54,000 of them disabled — and thousands of private school students.
The following bus companies are part of Local 1181: Amboy / Atlantic Express, BoroTransit / Lonero/ Consolidated, Hoyt, Grandpa’s,
Safe Coach, Pioneer, Mountainside, Bobbys, Rainbow, MV/Reliant, Tufaro, and Gotham.
“It’s mean,” said one Brooklyn mother, three of whose children take yellow bus service to yeshivah. “This is one of the few things yeshivah parents get from the city for their taxes.”
Walcott said the state appeals court last year ruled that what the union is demanding is illegal.
Michael Cordiello of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union said more than 8,000 bus drivers and matrons will participate in the strike, brought about by a dispute over job protections in any new bus company contracts for the bus routes. Matrons accompany the children on the bus and make sure they get on and off the bus safely.
“With its regrettable decision to strike, the union is abandoning … students and their families who rely on school bus service each day,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “As Chancellor (Dennis) Walcott and I have said, the City will take all steps available to ensure that those who are impacted have the support they need, and we are now activating the protocols we put in place in the event of a strike.”
Cordiello said, “Safely transporting our children back and forth school today has, and always will be, the top priority of every man and woman who make up ATU Local 1181.”
There are 1.1 million students in the New York City schools. While the majority don’t use school buses, those that do are among the youngest ones.
The city wants to cut transportation costs and has put bus contracts with private bus companies up for bid. The union is decrying the lack of employee protections, saying current drivers with skills and experience could suddenly lose their jobs once their contracts are up in June if the companies they work for aren’t the ones getting the new contracts and the new contract holders don’t hire them.
The mayor said the privately-contracted drivers were demanding job security, or Employee Protection Provisions.
However, such a guarantee is not allowed in contracts between drivers and companies chosen by the city to provide bus services, the city says. The state Court of Appeals in 2011 barred the city from including EPP because of competitive bidding laws. Hence, the mayor said, the city cannot accept the union demand for an EPP clause.
The drivers’ contracts expire on June 30, and Bloomberg said the city must seek competitive bids that would save money.
Cordiello refuted the idea that the EPP was not allowed. He said the 2011 Court of Appeals ruling was based on the fact that the city at the time did not offer the judges enough evidence to support its contention that the EPP job-security clause does not push up costs.
The union president also challenged the mayor’s assertion that both sides in the labor dispute had been talking “all along.”
Not true, Cordiello said. He said he’d met the chancellor for only 20 minutes last week, and the deputy chancellor for an hour.
He said Bloomberg and Walcott refused “to engage in any sort of productive dialogue” and had “forced our hand to strike.”
“You can teach someone to drive a school bus, but what happens when [trouble] breaks loose behind them?” said Susan Valdes-Dapena, whose 10-year-old son is bused from Astoria Queens to a school on Roosevelt Island, explaining that it takes experience to deal with situations like bus breakdowns, medical emergencies of kids with special needs or traffic, when kids get frustrated or unruly.
“The drivers we have now — I’d trust them with my own life,” she said.
The New York City School Bus Contractors Coalition, which represents the bus companies, condemned the strike, saying it would be illegal. The coalition said it would file unfair labor practice charges and civil lawsuits.
“We will do our very best to safely operate during the strike and call on the union to conduct peaceful and responsible picket lines,” the organization said. “While we are the employers, this dispute is strictly between the union and the city regarding the removal of the Employee Protection Provision from the upcoming bids. Our hope is that a strike will be averted for the sake of the children and all who rely on this essential service.”
The head of another union, Teamsters Local 854, which represents drivers, matrons, and mechanics, said its members would not go on strike with the bus drivers because their contracts don’t allow it, but they would not cross any picket lines. Some of the members of Local 854 work alongside members of ATU.
The City is attempting to provide alternate means of transportation, including student and adult MetroCards. There was concern that parents’ cards would be inactive for between 24 and 48 hours from the start of the strike, and that attempting to use inactive cards would invalidate them altogether.
Councilman David G. Greenfield (D-Brooklyn) demanded that the MTA do the right thing and allow any parents who are escorting their children to school tomorrow morning to ride alongside their children without paying fare out of their own pockets, asserting that the cards are already purchased and the step would not cost the MTA any additional expense.. Greenfield called on the MTA and DOE to ensure that MetroCards will be available to parents and activated in time for the expected work stoppage, if that was not possible, that the MTA allow parents to ride with their young or special education children for free until the cards are activated.
Coping With the Bus Strike
The New York City Police Department will add more transit officers and more crossing guards to help manage the anticipated increase in the number of students using public transportation and walking to school.
Additional school safety officers will also be deployed to public schools.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission will issue an alert to all licensees to anticipate increased demand and have the maximum number of cars available.
The Office of Pupil Transportation sent a letter to parents explaining why the strike was called, and detailing transportation alternatives, including MetroCards, car service reimbursement, and mileage reimbursement:
All students who currently receive yellow bus service are eligible to receive a Metro Card, which parents should request from the school’s main office.
Parents of pre-school and school-age children with IEPs requiring transportation from their home directly to their school, as well as parents of general education children in grades K through 2, may also request a MetroCard for the parent or guardian to act as the child’s escort to school.
All field trips that would use yellow buses are canceled. After-school programs are open, but no transportation will be available.
To Be Reimbursed
Students who do not have access to public transportation may be driven to school or may take a car service.
Parents who drive children to school will be reimbursed at a rate of 55 cents per mile.
Parents who use a taxi or car service to transport their child to school will be reimbursed for the trip upon their completion of reimbursement forms that include a receipt for provided services.
Requests for reimbursements should be made one week at a time, using forms available at the school. The forms ask parents to indicate on which school days alternative transportation was taken and if it was for both the morning and afternoon commute. It is important to completely and clearly fill out the forms; incomplete forms will cause delay in processing.
Parents will need the “student ID,” which should be available from the school’s transportation coordinators.
Student Metro Cards are activated, and are good for three trips and three transfers a day, Monday — Friday, 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Any student requiring a four-trip card may request it from OPT.
Parent cards were inactivated as of Tuesday, and would not work in subways before Wednesday or on buses before Thursday. Using before activation permanently disables the card; replacement will be difficult or impossible.
Parent cards are “30 day unlimited number of trips” and may be used seven days a week, 24 hours per day. Parent cards are good only on subways and local buses, not on express buses or outside of NYC
To find out if your child’s bus service is disrupted, Call your school’s info line.
To find out online :
1. Go to https://www.opt-osfns.org/opt/Resources/SchoolRouteStSearch/SearchResult.aspx
2. Enter the school name.
3. Click “go.” If your school is affected, you will see a “service disrupted” message.