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School Bus Companies Using Replacements As Strike Continues

A school bus drives down a street in New York City (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A school bus drives down a street in New York City (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Yellow school buses in the city were back rolling again Tuesday, despite the ongoing strike.

As CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang reported, some bus companies have decided to hire replacement workers to help get special needs students to class.

Union drivers have been crying foul, but Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 said they will be making an announcement about the ongoing strike at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.  It is unclear what they will be announcing.

Dozens of buses rolled out Tuesday on Staten Island amid jeers, boos and shouts of “scab” from striking school bus drivers and matrons. The shouts from members of Local 1181 scorned the replacement drivers – members of a different union – and who took over their routes.

The shouts were fueled by more emotion than usual.

“I feel like it’s a disgrace,” said Local 1181 bus driver Al Passaretti. “You’re being betrayed.”

The Local 1181 drivers were especially angry at the replacement drivers’ decision not to honor the strike and to cross the picket line, despite being unionized themselves.

“They’re crossing another union’s lines,” said Local 1181 driver Bernard Previti. “Very, very poor judgment on their part.”

But the bus companies said they had no option other than to bring in new drivers.

“The (Department of Education) is demanding that we fulfill our contracts,” Atlantic Express owner Dominick Gatto told 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg. “We have no choice.”

Atlantic Express noted that every bus in the fleet is for special needs children.

“They worked hard to get this all put together; to go through additional training required of them,” said Atlantic Express regional manager Patrick Cerniglia.

Carolyn Daly, spokeswoman for the bus companies, said in a statement that the Department of Education signed an emergency order last week giving bus companies the authority to use drivers from a different union, United Service Workers Local 355, as matrons for the buses.

“Legally, the matron needs to complete certain special training,” Daly said. “The city requires a driver and matron on all special ed buses. Last night, the matrons all completed training and they reported to duty at 6 a.m.”

Some Local 355 replacement drivers even became CPR certified so they could ride along as matrons, who are required on all special needs buses.

Those who normally do the matron job were also picketing. Regina Granato, a 23-year veteran, called the quick fix a joke.

“They have no clue what it’s like to work on a bus with children with special needs,” Granato said. “I think it’s a disgrace. I’m insulted by it because I gave so many years to this.”

Striking drivers and matrons said the replacements aren’t qualified to handle students with special needs.

“They’re definitely putting their children at risk. I can’t believe that the mayor and the chancellor are even allowing this happen,” said striking driver Ernie Maione. “They took a four-hour class yesterday and call themselves certified. They’re not certified.”

The walkout began on Jan. 16. It was triggered by the city’s plan to put bus contracts out to bid for lower costs.

Bus companies and union leaders met Monday in an effort to resolve the strike at the mayor’s official residence, Gracie Mansion.

Calling the meeting “long-overdue,” Michael Cordiello of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union said drivers will continue to strike until the city agrees to put a job security clause back into their contract.

“We continue to believe that Mayor Bloomberg has a responsibility to take part in these discussions and join us at the table,” he said.

The Bloomberg administration has insisted that it cannot and that adding a job protection clause would be illegal.

The city has stressed from the start, that this is an issue between the employers and their employees. The city contracts with private bus companies and says it must seek competitive bids to save money.

Atlantic Express plans to roll out more buses by the end of the week. Afor the Local 1181 drivers, they have no plans to end their strike.

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