NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The threat of a school bus strike continued to hang over tens of thousands of New York City families Monday.
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, on Sunday night Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union said the drivers wouldn’t walk out Monday, but said there are no promises for the rest of the week.
The union has demanded a major concession from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but so far, the city has stood firm.
If a strike goes ahead, 152,000 students will need to find alternate routes to school.
The union is furious over the details of a new plan by the city to put contracts with private bus companies up for bid.
The city says the move will save money that could be used in classrooms. But the union is criticizing the lack of employee protections, saying many current drivers could lose their jobs once their contracts are up in June.
“The union is not opposed to the bid and I think that should be said. All we say is put the employment protection provision in the bid,” said ATU Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello.
But Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott have both emphasized that the city cannot legally give the union what it wants.
“The law will not let us guarantee what they’re asking for which is that the next company take them on at their current salaries. Nobody would bid,” Bloomberg said.
Walcott said New York City spends $6,900 a year per pupil to get kids to school. In Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school district, it is less than half that.
Mayor Bloomberg said the city has to be responsible with the funds it has.
“We have an obligation to use our money effectively — it’s the taxpayers’ money and there is only so much devoted to education and we would be better off putting that money into the classroom, or some it, if we can possibly do it than in transporting kids,” said Bloomberg. “We have to transport kids but we want to do it as efficiently as we can because there is only a certain pot of money.”
Parents are divided.
“It’s an inconvenience to them not to have safety for their jobs, their security,” one parent said.
But another added: “I don’t have job protection either. You’ve got to figure, you’re in it for yourself or you’re in it for the kids.”
The last time New York City school bus drivers went on strike was 1979. The walkout lasted 13 weeks and only ended when job protections were added.
That same year, New York Magazine exposed ties between many school bus operators and the mob.
The mob also corrupted Local 1181. In 2008, the U.S. Attorney said, “The Genovese crime family of La Cosa Nostra has influenced and controlled Local 1181 at least since the 1980s.”
The Genovese family is one of five historic organized crime families in New York City.
In recent years, the feds took down Genovese boss Matty “the Horse” Ianniello, and five local 1181 leaders for racketeering and corruption. They also busted seven city school bus inspectors for taking bribes.
When a reporter quoted a federal prosecutor from 2009 as saying, “organized crime retains influence in the New York City school bus market,” Mayor Bloomberg denied it.
“I don’t know of any evidence that says that’s true,” he said Monday. “I think plain and simple their workers are concerned about their jobs here and I understand that.”
“I don’t think that’s fair to this union. There’s no allegations that I know that there’s anything other than they’re trying to protect their members, and I’m sympathetic to that,” added the mayor.
But the mayor said the old scandals do speak to the need to rebid bus contracts – something the city has not done since 1979.
“I’m sorry we didn’t do it earlier. I wish we had,” he said. “But we’re doing it now.”
In the event of a strike, the city has put a contingency 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.
The city says of the 152,000 students who take the bus, special needs kids would be most affected because their access to public transportation is more limited.
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