City officials are bracing for a potential strike of city school bus drivers as early as Monday morning. The weekend saw an escalation of the standoff between Local 1181, the union representing some of the drivers, and the Department of Education which is seeking bids for new contracts covering bus routes for some of the city’s special needs students.
It’s the first time the city has sought to renegotiate these contract in 33 years; the union is concerned that new bus
contracts don’t include job protection for current drivers and bus matrons. The union argues it’s a matter of safety: more experienced drivers will keep students safer.
“We do not want to strike,” said Local 1181 president Michael Cordiello at a rally Sunday. “A strike is the last card we want to play. But if we are given no other alternative and no other option, we will do what we need to do to protect the children of the city of New York and to protect the workforce of the school bus industry.”
But Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that safety is not the issue.
“Seniority doesn’t guarantee safety,” said Walcott at a briefing Sunday to update parents and students on how the city is preparing for the potential strike. “Good drivers, good bus companies guarantee the safety record of the person coming in and therefore the safety of our students. We would never ever allow our students to be put in harm’s way.”
In the event of a strike, city officials have already set up contingency plans for families of students who receive yellow bus service. For families that are not near public transportation, the D.O.E. will offer
some reimbursement for travel costs at the rate of 55 cents per mile or for the cost of cab or car services.
The D.O.E. said it would also issue MetroCards to the students at the school’s general office. Parents of students with individualized education plans (IEPs) in grades K-2 may also request an additional MetroCard so they can be escorted to school.
But these contingency plans aren’t sitting well with parents of special needs students, like Madeline Sinor. She was at the rally in City Hall Park Sunday to support the yellow school bus drivers who she said are with special needs students like her daughter, “every morning and every afternoon.”
“Some of these kids that they transport have serious medical issues,” she said. “MetroCards are not going to do the job.”
Union officials said they do not oppose the city’s contract bid itself. What they want is for it to include the so-called Employment Protection Provision, which would guarantee job safety of current bus drivers and matrons.
City officials argue that they can’t include the Employee Protection Provision because a court ruled it was illegal for a similar contract bid last year.
Cardiello said the union wants to sit down at the negotiating table with the city. Chancellor Walcott confirmed the city has not engaged in talks with the union since it sent out the contract bid on Dec. 21, 2012.
A system-wide strike would impact more than 152,000 students.