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Parents Worry As NYC School Bus Strike Looms

The City And The Union Have Been Battling Over Contract Issues
Members of the union for school bus drivers hold a sign at a protest Jan. 6, 2013 (credit: Monica Miller/WCBS 880)

Members of the union for school bus drivers hold a sign at a protest Jan. 6, 2013 (credit: Monica Miller/WCBS 880)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Tens of thousands of children were preparing Sunday night for the threat of a New York City school bus drivers’ strike.

As CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported, the students and their parents have found themselves caught up in a nasty fight between the district and the drivers’ union. A strike would force them to find another way to school.

The union said Sunday night that drivers will show up to work on Monday. But beyond that is anyone’s guess.

The threat to strike stems from the city’s decision to invite bids to help control the more than $1 billion cost for school busing.

It has been 33 years since there has been any significant competitive bidding for the yellow school bus contracts, according to the city.

Officials with Transit Union Local 1181 said workers will walk off the job on Monday in protest. School officials have been preparing.

“We’re expecting a systemwide strike,” said New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

Walcott and labor officials held dueling news conferences on Sunday afternoon.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott holds news conference on possible school bus strike Jan. 6, 2013 (credit: Monica Miller/WCBS 880)

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott holds news conference on possible school bus strike Jan. 6, 2013 (credit: Monica Miller/WCBS 880)

Walcott warned that the more than 150,000 students who take yellow buses may soon need other ways to get to school.

“We just don’t know, and that’s the unfortunate part. I mean, the union has said, ‘well maybe on Monday, maybe Wednesday. Maybe we’ll do it maybe we won’t do it,'” Walcott told reporters including 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.

“They’re jerking our kids around,” Walcott added. “Quite frankly, the first day will be rough.”

Walcott said a service disruption would impact the most vulnerable students in the system.

“I am very concerned about the possibility of a strike by the bus drivers union that would jeopardize yellow bus service for 152,000 students, including 54,000 students with disability,” Walcott said.

The drivers told Schuck that they will not be bullied by the city. They told Schuck that any changes in the contract could put many drivers on welfare.

“We will consider our options and our final option will be to strike if we have to, but that’s not something we’re looking forward to doing,” ATU local 1181 president Michael Cordiello told reporters including WCBS 880’s Monica Miller.

Walcott said the union is pushing back against bidding out the multiple contracts on 1,100 bus routes, and want job security to be part of the deal.

But while rivers worry the act of putting contracts up to bid will cost jobs and seniority protections, Cordiello said, “The union is not opposed to the bid. All we say is put the employment protection provision in the bid.”

But Walcott said the Department of Education is not able to set job protections in stone.

“We cannot legally do that,” Walcott said. “The New York State court of appeals ruled that such a guarantee could not legally be included in our bids.”

In arguing for the bid, the city says it’s unfair to taxpayers to spend an average of $6,900 a year per pupil to get students to school. It costs less than half that, $3,124, in Los Angeles, the second largest school district.

“When you take a look at the overall amount that we spent in New York City it is over $1.1 billion, talking about a billion dollars, and we have a responsibility to the taxpayers of New York City to make sure we have fair, competitive bids,” Walcott told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer on Saturday.

The city said it thinks it can save money and put that money back into the classroom. The union argues that the special needs kids need experienced drivers and bus matrons.

“Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott are attempting to take away the jobs of thousands of experienced school bus drivers and matrons who provide years of unmatched training and experience for all our children — experience that cannot be replaced,” charged Cordiello.

In the event of a strike, the public schools have a plan in place:

• All students who currently use bus service will receive a MetroCard through the school’s general office. The Department of Education has already told the Metropolitan Transit Authority that it may need to accommodate more riders.

• Parents of pre-school and school-age children with individualized education plans, who require transportation directly from their homes to their schools — as well as parents of general education students from kindergarten through grade 2 – may also request MetroCards for themselves to escort their children to school on public transit.

• Parents of children who receive busing from their home, or are in grades kindergarten through 6 and do not live in areas where public transportation to school is available, may request reimbursement for their transportation costs. Parents who drive their children to school will be reimbursed at a rate of 55 cents per mile, while parents who use a taxi or car service will be reimbursed for their trips if they fill out the proper forms and include receipts. The forms are available at www.schools.nyc.gov, and in schools’ general offices.

• If students cannot get to school at all, the Department of Education will be posting materials online for every grade and core subject so students can keep up at home.

But parents said regardless of the contingency plans, a strike would cause major problems.

“Well, you’re not going to be able to go to work,” said Midtown resident Gigi Marquez.

Walcott said parents who have questions should call 311 for information.

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