No Right to Strike

For more than 8,000 New York City school bus drivers and aides, the choice was clear. They could either worry about the needs of some 152,000 students, many of them disabled, or put their own interests first.

At 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning, it was apparent that they chose the selfish route. The fact that freezing rain was falling, causing slippery roads and an extremely challenging commute, didn’t deter the union from going ahead with the strike. Frustrated parents, long accustomed to putting their children on buses each morning before heading to work themselves, struggled to find alternative arrangements.

The dispute between the union and the city revolves around a job-security clause that the drivers want in their contract, a demand that the city insists it is legally prohibited from fulfilling.

With their actions, the drivers just proved all the more how undeserving they are of the jobs they currently hold. Like police officers and firefighters, school bus drivers play an important role in ensuring public safety.

For many parents — including a significant number in our community — the strike means that parents have to choose between driving an older child to school (and thereby arriving late to work) and allowing the student to make his way to school himself. The latter often includes the child’s navigating the crowded mass-transit system during rush hour or walking far distances in the freezing cold. Forcing students to go to school via unfamiliar city streets, buses and subway routes isn’t only unfair; it can also be dangerous.

For parents of a disabled child, the predicament is far more complex. This is how one father described to the Associated Press the challenge of getting his disabled daughter to school:

“It means transferring her to the car, breaking down the wheelchair, getting here, setting up the wheelchair, transferring her from the car, when normally she would just wheel right into the school bus…She’s on oxygen. There’s a lot of equipment that has to be moved and transferred also.”

The union has charged that the city’s decision to put its contracts with private bus companies up for bids may mean having “less-experienced drivers” at the wheel. Yet, with their words and actions, the striking drivers have make it clear that the safety and well-being of the city’s students certainly aren’t high on their list of priorities.

When the Boston police force went on strike in 1919, then-Massachusetts Governor (later to be President) Calvin Coolidge famously declared, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.” Those cops were fired and replaced.

It was based on this premise that President Ronald Reagan made history in 1981 when he fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers.

While these drivers may have a legal right to strike, they have no moral right to do so. The drivers should either return to their jobs or be replaced.

Every effort should be made to further expand the bidding process and explore alternatives such as reimbursement vouchers. It will help save taxpayer money, and also bring a greater element of fairness to the system.