NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The union representing New York City school bus drivers announced Monday that its members will go on strike, effective Wednesday morning.
The strike by Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union will disrupt transportation for about 152,000 students.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, union bosses filed grim-faced into a Midtown news conference Monday afternoon, having just made the decision to go all the way. The school bus drivers’ strike will be the first since 1979.
“While we remain optimistic that we can reach an agreement, we are here today to announce that Local 1181 will strike effective Wednesday morning,” said union president Michael Cordiello. “This is not a decision that we have arrived at lightly, but an action we must take.”
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The fight is over job security. The city has decided to put contracts out to bid for school bus companies, which would be allowed to hire some new workers and lay off veteran drivers.
The city has pointed out that it pays nearly $7,000 to bus each student – a total of nearly $1.1 billion per year – and most children do not even ride the buses.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the amount the city is paying has to change, and the courts back him up.
Cordiello said Monday night that it is up to Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reinsert something called employment protection, or EPP, back into its bus contracts.
“Ask the mayor to come to the table, and let’s get this EPP issue out of the way,” Cordiello said.
That would mean keeping higher-paid, experienced drivers before hiring anyone new.
But the city said that something it cannot do.
“Have you ever heard of a strike where one side is demanding something the courts ruled illegal?” Bloomberg asked.
Earlier, before the official announcement of the strike, Bloomberg called the action “unfair” to both students and families, adding that such a move would be “totally misguided.”
“The New York State Court Of Appeals ruled that the city could not legally include the job protection provision the union is demanding. This provision is the only reason the union is calling a strike. They will pretend it is about safety. The fact is these contracts include the exact same safety provisions as the current contracts,” Bloomberg said.
The mayor also said a strike would “jeopardize” both the “education and safety of students.”
But drivers vehemently disagree with the city’s contentions, including that their demands are illegal. The union suggested that Bloomberg is trying unilaterally to undo the major accomplishments of the last school bus drivers’ strike nearly 34 years ago.
Meanwhile, Teamsters Local 854 President Dan Gatto put out a statement expressing support for the school bus drivers.
“There is only one party responsible for the possible job action by unionized bus drivers represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union: Mayor Bloomberg and his administration. For weeks now, City Hall has refused to discuss the job-killing provisions they are insisting on as part of new contracts with bus contractors. It’s almost as if City Hall wants this strike to happen for some perverse reason,” Gatto said.
Bus driver Pablo Nieves said he doesn’t want to strike, but he also doesn’t want to lose the seniority he’s built up.
“If we lose our seniority and the city cuts the pay for the contracts in half, then the companies won’t be able to pay the top salary people, and we will lose our job,” Nieves said.
But some of the 9,000 unionized drivers and bus attendants do not like the idea of a strike.
“I guess we’ll have to do what we have to do,” said bus driver Priscilla George. “I’m really disappointed.”
Parents have already wondered what the consequences of the strike will be.
“It would put me in a predicament; I would have to take it day by day,” Cindy Moscoso said.
“If they go on strike, it would be very, very hard,” Treena Hunter added.
Hunter’s daughter is a special ed student at a school in Brooklyn.
“Special education students are safer when they ride the bus, so for her to actually take public transportation, I would have to take her to school, or she would have to travel by herself,” Hunter said.
On Sunday, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced contingency measures.
Alternate provisions that have been put in place by the city include free MetroCards for students and reimbursements for taxis for those students who can’t take mass transit.
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