ATU 1181 NYC School Bus Union Weighs Calling Off Monthlong Strike Against Union Busting NYC Billionaire Bloomberg

ATU 1181 NYC School Bus Union Weighs Calling Off Monthlong Strike Against Union Busting NYC Billionaire Bloomberg
Published: February 15, 2013

Lawrence J. Hanley, the international president of the union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, said the executive board members were meeting on Friday afternoon and would vote on whether to continue the strike, which began Jan. 16. He said those union leaders planned to inform their members of the outcome of the vote in a conference call Friday evening.

Mr. Hanley said leaders of Local 1181, the union chapter that called the strike, were trying “to achieve consensus about which way to go forward,” but he was unsure what positions were being staked out by which officials.

Public schools resume classes on Wednesday next week, which was originally a holiday week but was changed because of school days lost to Hurricane Sandy.

The strike has affected more than 100,000 students, tens of thousands of them children with special needs, and their parents, who often travel long distances to get to the schools. Attendance has been down sharply at special-education programs, with many students staying home during the strike.

The job action has also become a hardship for the drivers. Members have stood in the cold on picket lines in far corners of the city, watching in some cases as replacement workers did their jobs. Many expressed concerns about their health coverage running out. And they are being paid only $150 to $300 a week from union strike funds.

A decision to return to work would represent a major victory for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who had begun to strip the employee protections in contracts that the city signed with the private companies who run the buses. Traditionally, companies winning contracts for new routes were required to hire from union membership rolls, but the city argued that a Court of Appeals decision in a lawsuit brought by several bus companies forbade the city from including the requirement in contracts. The union argued that the city was misreading the decision in order to break the union. The city refused to negotiate with the union, saying the matter was between it and the private companies.

The last strike, a three-month walkout in 1979, had a different result.That action inflicted such difficulty on schoolchildren and their families that Frank J. Macchiarola, the schools chancellor at the time, approached Mayor Edward I. Koch seeking a way out that, in turn, led to the birth of the job protections, known as employee protection provisions, that are currently at issue.

About 5,000 of the city’s 7,700 routes were affected by the strike. The others were staffed by drivers not in unions, or from other unions.

Several Democratic candidates hoping to succeed Mr. Bloomberg signed a letter late on Thursday siding with the union and urging an end to the strike.

Michael Cordiello, the president of Local 1181, said the organization would resume its efforts with the next mayor.

“It gives us great confidence that the next mayor of this city will be far more sympathetic to the working conditions of the drivers, matrons and mechanics that make up Local 1181,” Mr. Cordiello said in a statement. (Joseph J. Lhota, a Republican candidate for mayor, issued a statement Friday backing Mr. Bloomberg.)

“As Local 1181 further contemplates the direction this strike will take, a few things are decidedly clear: that Mayor Bloomberg has shown an alarming lack of leadership throughout this entire process, instead opting to divide our city,” Mr. Cordiello said. “He has put the children, especially those who need the safety and experience that our membership provides the most, at risk.”

One driver on strike, Everest Jones, 51, a single parent of two teenagers who lives in Brooklyn, said that the strike was hard but that he felt he had made as much of a stand as he could for the protections he still hoped for.

“We all want to go back to work,” he said.

Mr. Jones makes top pay for a driver, nearly $29 an hour, but said that even if he were able to keep driving a school bus, his pay could be slashed in half if a new company takes over his route. He has been a bus driver for 17 years, and drives 13 blind children in the Bronx, 7 in wheelchairs, none of whom have been going to school during the strike, he said.

The city has given out free MetroCards to students and parents affected by the strike, and has reimbursed them for cab fare or car mileage. Still, it has been difficult for many parents, like Nadine Bennett, who was picking up her 8-year-old son, Shamor, who has autism, from Public School 141 in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, on Friday afternoon.

Ms. Bennett works at a Starbucks in Midtown Manhattan, and said she had to take off one month from work on personal leave. “I had to take a leave just for this,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Tritia Denaro, whose two sons are normally bused from home in Windsor Terrace to two schools in Brooklyn, said she and her husband had to take time off from work to pick up their sons from school. After several days, they realized they could not keep leaving work early. They tried a variety of solutions — taking turns every other day, for example — but could not make it work.

“We thought it was going to be a two- or three-day thing,” she said, while picking up her 5-year-old, Andy, from Public School 84 in Williamsburg. Hoisting her squirming 3-year-old, Kenji, into the air, she added, “Ultimately, we had to withdraw this one from school early every day so we could pick both up.”

Randy Leonard, Eli Rosenberg and Vivian Yee contributed reporting.