Union, City Showing No Signs Of Relenting So Walkout May Last A Long Time

Updated at 12:22 a.m., Jan. 16, 2013

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City school bus drivers were just hours from walking off the job Tuesday night, and thousands of parents were scrambling to find alternate transportation.

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As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, the drivers made their final pickup Tuesday afternoon. Students got their last ride home before the drivers take to the picket lines Wednesday morning.

The kids seemed oblivious, but their parents were making plans.

“If I have to take him on the subway to school then I have to take him on the subway to school,” said parent Scott Van Dyke.

And there was no idea Tuesday night how long the strike could last. The uncertainty and inconvenience was most profound on special needs children, who may have no good alternative to the school bus.

“I’m assuming he’ll have to stay home for the time being,” one woman said.

As the strike loomed Tuesday afternoon, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott spoke with WCBS 880 and said Local 1181 was “taking an action against our students,” which he said would “hurt our students in the long run.”

“They’re asking us to do something that’s illegal and we’re doing the responsible thing,” Walcott said.

Union President Michael Cordiello said Monday night that it was up to Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reinsert something called an “employee protection provision” back into its bus contracts, which the city is putting out for bids.

Essentially, that would mean keeping higher-paid, experienced drivers before hiring anyone new. That, however, is something the city steadfastly said was illegal.

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

However, the union said the city is misinterpreting the court’s ruling.

“They’re saying it’s illegal for the pre-K bid, which it is, but for the K-12 bid it is not illegal,” Thomas Fret, of ATU 1181, told CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey.

So why is the city insisting the provision is illegal?

“We have no idea,” said Fret.

Bus drivers with seniority said without protection, they’re too expensive to hire.

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“We all going to lose — the top driver. We all going to lose,” said driver Joseph Barthomolew.

“We have kids, too. We have mortgages, too,” Hector White added.

One 20-year veteran driver said he was worried about his financial future.

“Very important,” he said. “If they hire non-union workers, who’s going to pay for the benefits for the retirees that are going to retire; the pension plan and all that? What do we do?”

Stuck in the middle are the children and parents like Yvette King.

“It’s not fair, it’s not fair. I don’t think it’s fair,” she said. “I understand their position, but they have to think about the kids.”

On Wednesday, King will be late for her new job after bringing her autistic child to school.

The union said the city isn’t negotiating and never offered any solutions to avoiding a work stoppage.

Late Tuesday, union bosses said as financially difficult as it may be, members are ready to take a stand for the job security they’ve enjoyed for 33 years.

For those students who will be affected by the strike, the following measure have been put in place by the DOE:

  • All students who currently receive yellow bus service may receive a MetroCard. MetroCards should be requested through the school’s general office. The DOE has informed the Metropolitan Transit Authority that it may need to accommodate additional riders.
  • Parents of pre-school and school-age children with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and require transportation from their home directly to their school, as well as parents of general education children in grades K-2, may also request a MetroCard to escort their children to school.
  • Parents of children who receive busing from their home or are in K-6 and do not live in areas where public transportation between home and school is available, may request reimbursement for transportation costs. Parents who drive their children to school will be reimbursed at a rate of 55 cents per mile. Parents who use a taxi or car service to transport their child to school will be reimbursed for the trip upon completion of reimbursement forms that includes a receipt for provided services. Requests for reimbursements should be made weekly on forms that will be available on the DOE web site, http://www.schools.nyc.gov , and in schools’ general offices. Families who plan to drive or use a car service to carpool are encouraged to carpool with their neighbors whenever possible.
  • In the unfortunate event that students cannot get to school, the Department will be posting materials online for every grade and core subject so that students can continue their learning at home during the strike.

Walcott also said that some bus companies not taking part in the strike may be on road. He said parents can use the Department of Education’s Route Finder, to determine if their child’s route is affected.

The Archdiocese of New York’s Catholic schools in Manhattan, Staten Island and Bronx said while it is “not known what action other unions may take,” they said it is “reasonable to assume that some or all of their members may also walk off the job or take some other action that will disrupt service.”

In the event that occurs, the Archdiocese said it would follow the NYC DOE guidelines, which include the student and parent MetroCard provisions.

City Councilman David Greenfield is also calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to honor all MetroCards being used by parents taking their children to school.

He said in a release that he has been told by school administrators that it will take between 24 and 48 hours for parents’ MetroCards to be activated, “meaning that parents will not be able to ride city buses with their young or special education children tomorrow on the first day of the strike.”

Greenfield wants the MTA to allow parents escorting their children to do so without having to pay a fare out of their own pockets.

The DOE, meanwhile, said parents who need to use the subway can get their MetroCards at school on Wednesday.

Parents who use the bus can pick up their MetroCards on Thursday. Cards can be used immediately, according to the DOE. Students who use the bus will get their MetroCards Tuesday at school.

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