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School Officials: Bus Drivers’ Strike May Be Imminent

(credit: CBS 2)

(credit: CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – New York City parents Sunday night were being warned to make alternate plans, with a school bus strike considered close to inevitable.

Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson tweeted early Sunday morning that, “The union representing NYC school bus drivers will likely strike this week. Parents who rely on a bus should begin making alternate plans.”

As CBS 2’s Drew Levinson reported, the announcement could come as early as Monday that drivers would walk off their jobs midweek, leaving 152,000 students without transportation to school.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott at a news conference on Sunday said it seemed a strike is imminent.

“Not now a matter of if, but a matter of when,” Walcott said Sunday. “We’re operating on rumor and hearsay and you can’t run a system on rumor or hearsay.”

There are reports that the picket posters have already been printed.

“We’ve heard Wednesday, but again, we haven’t heard anything official,” Walcott said. “It is possible that some bus companies may continue to operate while others are striking.”

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 has promised that school bus drivers will not get behind their steering wheels unless the district meets their demands over job security.

The city is putting out contracts for bid in hopes of saving money.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday that the bid is necessary.

“New York City pays $1.1 billion each year for school busing, an average of $6,900 per student; that’s far more than any other school system in the country. Los Angeles, second only to New York in size, pays just $3,100 per student. To cut down on costs and transfer those savings to the classroom, we need to secure new contracts for bus routes,” Bloomberg said Sunday.

He said the new contract will save taxpayers $95 million over five years, and that money will go back into classrooms where it is needed most.

But the union wants the winning bus companies to guarantee drivers’ jobs and pay — something the city says it can’t do.

“What the union is asking the city to do is illegal,” Walcott said.

Bloomberg said the anticipated result is highly disappointing.

“So there’s nothing the City can do to meet the union’s demands – and in a year when our students have already missed a week or more of school because of Hurricane Sandy, a strike would be totally irresponsible,” the mayor said.

The union would not comment Sunday night, but has promised to give a 24 hour notice before parking the buses.

The city has said it will supply students with free MetroCards and will reimburse parents for taxi fare or car service if needed to get their kids to school.

But Walcott cautioned if and when there is a strike, the first day will not be easy.

Walcott asked the Office Of Emergency Management and the NYPD to make sure that extra crossing guards are available, and the Taxi and Limousine Commission has been told to make sure extra vehicles are available for various car services, 1010 WINS reporter Carol D’Auria reported.

In spite of measures taken to facilitate transportation in the event of a strike, Walcott told 1010 WINS that he believed the strike would still result in absences.

“Children who are unable to attend school because of disruptions to the yellow bus service will be marked absent with an explanation code,” he said.

Andrea Tambalotti of Washington Square said it will not be easy, but he will find a way to get his 6-year-old daughter, Sofia, to class.

“We have a group of parents who, from more or less the same neighborhood, the kids ride the bus together,” Tambalotti said. “So we are probably just going to take them one by one – the group of kids – and we will take the bus.”

A third of the students affected are disabled and require special transportation services.

“That’s why this strike bothers me to no extent,” Walcott said. “That’s why, to me, it is totally disrespectful to students and families.”

In another twist, attorneys the New York City School Bus Coalition, representing bus companies, issued a warning letter to Local 1181, saying, “If and when you commence a work stoppage we will file unfair labor practice charges, charging the union with an unlawful secondary strike

The coalition also planned to seek an injunction from the National Labor Relations Board.

Walcott said if there is a strike, the Department of Education is ready to deal with it for as long as it takes. He added that the department will continue to ensure that students get a quality education.

There was the threat of a bus strike last weekend as well.

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