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Thousands Of NYC School Bus Drivers Go On Strike, Cause Headaches For Parents

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott: Strike 'Will Go However Long It Goes'
A worker with Atlantic Express closes the gate for school buses after more than 8,000 New York City school bus drivers and aides went on strike over job protection Wednesday morning on January 16, 2013. (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A worker with Atlantic Express closes the gate for school buses after more than 8,000 New York City school bus drivers and aides went on strike over job protection Wednesday morning on January 16, 2013. (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – It was a day of headaches for the parents of thousands of New York City school children as bus drivers commenced their strike brought on by a dispute over job protections provisions.

The picket lines were packed early Wednesday morning at the start of the strike that had been promised for weeks.  The entire situation caused students to get stuck in the middle — a 45 minute commute for some turned into 3 hours.

For more information about the strike for parents and students, click here.

Union officials from Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union said bus drivers will stay on strike until the city agrees to put the aforementioned job protection clause back into their contract.

More than 8,000 school drivers and matrons participated in the strike, forcing nearly 152,000 public school students to find other ways to get to class.

THE UNION’S POSITION

“They want to take everything away from us. They want to pay us seven dollars an hour,” bus matron Silvia Lockser told CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey.

Picketers said they had no choice but to abandon the children who depend on them after the city put a thousand bus routes out for bid. The current contracts expire in June.

The city, however, has refused to include an Employee Protection Provision that has guaranteed jobs, wages and benefits for more than three decades.

“We need that provision — we’ve had it for 34 years,” bus driver Albert Shirano said.

“The fact of the matter is our drivers and matrons have been terrific stewards to this city,” Union President Michael Cordiello said at a news conference in Queens.

Cordiello said workers make about $35,000 a year on average, with a driver starting at $14 an hour and making as much as $29 an hour in over time.

Cordiello said he’s not opposed to the city seeking new bus contract bids as long as they include job protections.

“I’m here to try to save my job cause they want to take everything from us,” April Patterson, a driver for 15 years, told WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs. “I really can’t afford a strike, but I’ll do what I have to do in order to protect my job.”

To sway public opinion, Local 1181 also launched TV ads warning parents about new, potentially “inexperienced” school drivers who could be hired.

THE CITY’S POSITION

But New York City officials said the strike isn’t about student safety, but about protecting a rare perk.

“The irony is that New York City is the only district in the country that has the employee protection provision,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

When asked how long he thinks the strike will last, Walcott said, “This will go however long it goes.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said police were called in to intervene Wednesday morning after bus vendors in Brooklyn and Staten Island reported strike supporters blocked gates at their garages in an effort to prevent buses from leaving.

“I think it’s just an outrage that picketers would try to prevent them from doing their jobs,” Bloomberg said. “It is an even bigger outrage that they would try to prevent kids from getting to school today.”

“Union leaders have denied that this is a strike against schoolchildren and their families, unfortunately, I think it’s fair to say such disgraceful actions speak louder than words,” Bloomberg added. “Whatever else happens during the strike, let me make it clear we won’t permit that kind of reprehensible conduct.”

The city said the job protection provision the union wants is illegal.

“What the union wants us to do is to include something called a ‘employee protection provision’ which was ruled illegal by the New York State Court of Appeals — the highest court in New York State,” Walcott said.

“This strike is about job guarantees that the union just can’t have,” Bloomberg said. “The union has lost legal challenges on this issue at every level. Twelve judges told them they’re wrong, they are seeking protections that aren’t provided, incidentally, in any other school district in the nation. “

The city doesn’t directly hire bus drivers and matrons. They work for private companies that have city contracts.

“The employees that are striking have to resolve their issues with the bus companies that employee them and not us,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg stressed it is the bus companies that set the salaries and benefits for workers.

“The protection that they’re seeking is one which we can’t force their employers to provide by law and it is not in the city’s interest to do so,” Bloomberg said. “The city’s interest is to get the best service that it possibly can at the lowest possible price and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

OTHER IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENTS

School bus companies have filed two complaints over the union’s strike with the National Labor Relations Board. One complaint (.pdf) calls the strike an “unlawful secondary strike” and the other (.pdf) says the union “failed and refused to engage in good faith bargaining.”

The union, however, said its strike is perfectly legal and scoffed at the city’s complaint that costs are too high given the average salary for a driver and matron is $35,000.

“We don’t even get pad sick days, so for him to make the remark that this is draining the city’s funds is ridiculous,” Cordiello said.

Cordiello also insisted that the city does have the power to end the strike.

“Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Walcott, please come negotiate with us, put the EPPs (employee protection provisions) back in the bid, protect the workers who have the experience, protect the children of New York,” he said.

So far, no negotiations have been scheduled, according to Cordiello.

The city meanwhile is distributing MetroCards to students who could take buses and subways to school. It also plans to reimburse parents who drive or take taxis.

“We will get our children to school,” Walcott said. “We’ll have systems in place to support our parents and students.”

Out of the 152,000 students who receive busing, approximately 38,800 students including school-age and pre-k had bus routes that were running this morning, according to the Department of Education.

Approximately 113,200 school-age students were unable to take their bus today as a result of the strike, the DOE said.

Citywide, schools saw 87 percent attendance on Wednesday as compared to an 89.5 percent average for the rest of the month average.  However, special education schools saw a big drop in attendance — with 49.1 percent attending on Wednesday as compared to the 83 percent average for the month.

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