NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott on Friday in warning parents that more than 152,000 kids may be affected by a possible strike by city school bus drivers.
However, a statement put out by ATU Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello sought to reassure parents that there were “no immediate plans” for a strike.
This situation is the result of the Department of Education putting out a request for bids for new yellow bus service serving special education Pre-K and early intervention students. The current contract for the service expires in June of 2012.
The issue essentially boils down to a disagreement between the city and Local 1181 over a stipulation in the union’s new contract.
Bloomberg said the city is filing a charge with National Labor Relations Board over the possible strike.
“It is the Pre-K contract that is up for renewal, but they said they’d strike the entire system,” Bloomberg said.
“So the union is threatening an illegal strike that would harm the education of more than 150,000 thousand student if it doesn’t get its way and that is just outrageous,” he added.
The union statement went on to rip Bloomberg, saying all the mayor has done is “create more chaos, instability and concern among parents about NYC school buses, which have already been poorly managed for years.”
Cordiello also mentioned the Bronx bus crash back in March that left 15 people dead. The statement used that incident as a criticism of deregulation in the bus industry and said school students would be put at risk by the “casting away of experienced, well-trained employees in favor of companies who are simply seeking to provided bare-bones services at the lowest possible cost.”
“When it comes to school children the mayor should be more concerned about safety, not just cutting costs,” the statement read.
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Parents were outraged over the possibility of a strike.
“I just got the e-mail a few minutes ago. It’s certainly … I don’t think it’s fair,” said Susan Rios of East Harlem. “I walk her to the corner. She takes a school bus and then I go to work and if there’s a strike? Then I have to take the Second Avenue bus through construction traffic, leave early and get to work late.”
“This impacts the parents with work so it’s a real problem,” said Meg Wise-Lawrence of Forest Hills.
Bloomberg and Walcott unveiled an emergency plan in the event the strike occurs. Students who currently take a yellow bus from a designated bus stop will receive MetroCards. Parents or guardians of students who are picked up right at their homes may request a MetroCard to escort their child to school.
“For all students who are currently receiving yellow bus service from a designated school bus stop to school we will be issuing MetroCards and I’m happy to say that the MTA Chairman Joe Lhota has made 300,000 MetroCards available to us,” Bloomberg said.
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“We still hope for the best but the union has given us no choice but to expect the worst,” Walcott said.
“We regret the possibility of what could be a major disturbance in the lives of students and their families. We continue to hope that the bus driver and escort union will not take such unwarranted action,” he wrote.
Walcott explained in the letter that the issue boils down to the union demanding a provision that would guarantee employees seniority-based job protections for pre-Kindergarten bus drivers be included in the bid process for the next contract.
Walcott said a court decision bars the city from including the provision.
“In our view, this would be an illegal strike,” Walcott wrote. “This is a very difficult situation for the school system and we understand that it may be very upsetting to our students and families.”
Domenic Gatto, President and CEO of Atlantic Express Transportation Corp., issued a statement agreeing the strike would be illegal.
“As the city’s largest school bus provider, Atlantic Express is vehemently opposed to a system-wide strike by ATU Local 1181 and we will do everything in our power to legally prevent our employees from violating their collective bargaining agreement, including going to the court for an immediate injunction,” Gatto said.
“It would be irresponsible to strike the whole system because of the concerns of current Pre-K bid issues,” he added.
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