New York ATU 1181 School Bus Drivers Go on Strike


New York ATU 1181  School Bus Drivers Go on Strike

Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Children arrived by taxi at Public School 33 in New York on Wednesday.


Published: January 16, 2013

The first strike of New York City school bus drivers in three decades began Wednesday, leaving more than 100,000 children and their parents to negotiate new ways to class on a soggy, cold winter morning.

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Seth Wenig/Associated Press

School bus drivers and supporters walked a picket line in front of a bus depot in New York on Wednesday.

As anxious parents worried how long the strike would last, children boarded subways, hailed taxis and shared rides in cars while city officials warned that the labor dispute could last for some time.
“It is going to be chaotic,” Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said early Wednesday. “It is going to be traumatic.”
While most of the city’s 1.1 million students walk or rely on public transportation to get to school, the 152,000 students who rely on bus service include 54,000 special-needs children.
“These are not kids that it is easy for them to move to mass transit,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Wednesday morning during an appearance alongside Mr. Walcott on Channel 5.
Across the city, parents hustled through the rain with children by their sides, with normal daily routines in turmoil and widespread concern about being late for their own jobs.
“I have to go to work; now I’m late,” said Catalina Torres, 51, as she dropped her three grandchildren at school. Ms. Torres, who works as a teacher’s assistant, thought about the prospect of the strike lasting more than a week (the last one, in 1979, lasted 13 weeks) and said simply, “Oh my.”
Outside schools, cars bunched up and blocked the street at times as parents, navigating the drop-off of their children at school for the first time, jockeyed for space at the curb. The police were seen at several schools helping to keep traffic moving.
Even before the union representing bus drivers, Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, went on strike at 6 a.m., the city was making preparations to help families, including providing MetroCards and working out a system to reimburse those who used other means of transportation.
Mr. Bloomberg said the city had no plans at the moment to go to court to seek an injunction to force the drivers back to work.
The city, he said, would be holding firm. It is seeking new bids from bus companies that run some of the city’s routes, without the traditional job protection guarantees for union members that have been in past contracts. The Bloomberg administration argues that a recent court ruling has found that the city cannot offer the guarantees sought by the union.
“We couldn’t change our mind and cave if we wanted to,” Mr. Bloomberg said.
The union has contended that the court rulings are not as clear as Mr. Bloomberg claims and has said the decision for its 8,800 drivers and matrons to strike was essentially about children’s safety. (Some buses whose drivers are members of a different union, or not unionized, are still running. The Department of Education is asking parents to call 311 or check its Web site for the status of particular routes.)
As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, 3,000 bus routes out of approximately 7,700 total routes were running, according to the Education Department. While only 11 percent of the routes serving general education students were running, some 38 percent of the routes for special-needs children were still in service.
At least four vendors that were operating reported that protesters were blocking gates not allowing buses to get out, the department said. The police had to intervene so that buses could leave the depots.
The union argued that the strike was necessary to preserve job protection for the most experienced yellow-bus drivers if their employers, the private bus companies, lose city contracts after the routes are rebid.
Beyond the legal question, Mr. Bloomberg said on Wednesday that the city was also trying to control costs that have gotten out of control.
In 1979, he said, the city spent $100 million on transportation for students. Today, he said, that number is close to $1.1 billion.
The city spends $6,500 per year per student on transportation, he said, whereas Los Angeles spends less than half that amount, roughly $3,100 per student.
Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged that his administration had done little to control those costs.
“I look back and say we should have tackled this,” he said.
Putting the contracts out for competitive bidding, he said, would be an important first step in reining in spending.
“We want to move the money from outside into the classroom,” he said.
Michael Cordiello, the president of Local 1181, blamed the city for any hardship families were experiencing, and he disputed the idea that the city’s hands were tied by recent court rulings.
“How could it be illegal to put experienced bus drivers and matrons on the school bus?” he asked at a new conference Wednesday morning.
Noting that matrons have a starting salary of $11 per hour and that drivers start at $14 an hour, Mr. Cordiello said union members were not overpaid.
“For him to make the remark that this is draining the city’s funds is ridiculous,” he said. “He has put our back to the wall. We have no choice but to fight for our jobs”
Even as they disagreed, both the union and the city said that it was families who were suffering as a result of the disagreement.
Miriam Davenport, a dental hygienist in the Bronx, and the mother of a kindergartner, said she that had had to cancel several appointments Wednesday morning and that since she is paid by the hour, it would mean less money in her paycheck.
Normally, she leaves her home in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, before 7:30 a.m., shortly after the bus picks her daughter up. At 8:45, she was just dropping her daughter off at school.
“I feel bad about what the bus drivers are going through,” she said. “But I’m losing pay in order to accommodate what’s going on.”
Yissete Pallero, 27, a mother who lives in Downtown Brooklyn, also said the strike was costing her money.
On Wednesday, Ms. Pallero hustled to drop her oldest son, Brian Taveris, 11, who typically rides the bus, at his school in Williamsburg, before heading to work as a home attendant.
She will be at least 25 minutes late, she said, standing outside her white sedan in the rain.
“I’m clocking in late,” Ms. Pallero said.
She makes $11 an hour, so every minute matters to her. But she added, “I’m more fortunate than the parents who live farther” from school.
She said that she had not learned enough about the strike to determine whether she supported it but that she hoped it ends soon.

Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, Nate Schweber, Kyle Spencer and Julie Turkewitz.