6:01 p.m. | Updated This story was updated to include the latest busing and attendance figures from the Department of Education.
As the city weathered its first school bus strike in more than 30 years, union members picketed at bus depots and parents shuttled their children into cars, taxis and subway trains. City officials and the leaders of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union showed no sign of softening their positions; school attendance took a hit.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said attendance for all New York City public schools was 87 percent compared to an average of 89.5 percent this month. But that’s because the vast majority of students walk or take mass transit to school. The strike had the greatest impact on students with special needs who account for almost one third of the 152,000 students who ride the yellow buses.
Attendance plummeted at District 75 schools, which serve students with the most serious disabilities such as physical handicaps and emotional disturbances. The Department of Education said attendance at District 75 schools was 49.1 percent Wednesday compared to 83 percent on average for the month.
Of the 152,000 students who rely on buses, only about 25 percent had service Wednesday morning.
The mayor denounced striking protesters who tried to block buses from departing at four depots in Brooklyn and Staten Island. Police were called to the scenes.
“It’s just an outrage picketers would try to prevent them from doing their jobs,” he said, adding that more police would be stationed at the depots tomorrow.
At P.S. 186X, a District 75 school in the Bronx with five locations, school psychologist Donald Albright said just about a third of the school’s 578 students in grades K-8 made it to school. He works at the school’s main site in Morrisania, where he said 75 percent of his students take yellow buses.
“Some kids came in cabs, some kids came with their parents on public transportation, some of the parents had to work,” Albright said. “It was a little bit of a hardship for them. They really depend on the yellow school buses.”
He said the school has more than 50 students who use wheelchairs, but only one of them showed up because the family has a van.
Brooklyn parent Michele Muller, whose 13-year-old son uses a wheelchair because of multiple disabilities, said her husband drove him to the Richard H. Hungerford School on Staten Island.
“The only reason that I’m not extremely stressed out about it is because my son’s school has extended the school day,” she said, to give working parents more time to pick up their children. She it would probably cost $150 per week to drive him to school every day because of the Verrazano Bridge toll.
The Department of Education said it will reimburse parents who drive or take taxis, if their children have disabilities or if they are not near mass transit. Forms were given out at schools today. Parents were also given MetroCards in order to accompany younger children, or those with disabilities, on mass transit.
Information is available on the department’s website.
Parents wrote in to us at Schoolbook. One mother said she has children in two different schools so she’s expecting one of them will be late for school and the other one will get picked up early as long as the strike lasts.
Opinions were split about the validity of the strike. One parent said: “I feel badly for the bus drivers, who I recognize are only trying to guarantee job security for themselves, but I feel like they are probably putting a lot of other people’s jobs in jeopardy to get what they want.”
Another parent tweeted, “1 in taxi w mom; 1 in taxi w dad. Strike is gonna cost us a fortune.”
And listeners of WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show shared their comments online. Carmen Castillo-Barrett wrote:
“I am personally quite peeved with Bloomberg and Walcott for toying with my emotions for the last few weeks. I changed my work schedule and agonized about how to get my child to and from school only to find out that *some* school buses are on strike, not all. The blanket statement of ‘all school buses are on strike’ is emotional manipulation. Not only did my child’s school bus run, but other children on my block were picked up as well. The trust that parents have to instill in the bus drivers is being severely undermined by the mayor’s scare tactic.”
Standoff Between City Hall and Union
But after a day of logistical headaches, nothing appeared to change in the dynamic between City Hall and the union.
“This strike is about job guarantees that the union just can’t have,” Bloomberg told reporters at a press conference. He repeated his contention that the city removed longstanding employment protection provisions (EPP’s) from bus contracts, which are now going out for competitive bids, because the state’s highest court found EPP’s illegal in a 2011 ruling.
“The city’s job is not to get involved in a private dispute between employers and employees, but we certainly encourage them to talk,” he said, when asked if he would negotiate with the union.
But the union insists the mayor can end the strike. It claims the 2011 court ruling applied only to a select batch of bus contracts for pre-kindergarten students. It also noted that the Bloomberg administration supported these job protections prior to the court ruling.
“How can it be illegal to put experienced bus drivers and matrons on a school bus?” Local 1181 president Michael Cordiello said at a picket line in front of a bus depot in Ridgewood, Queens Wednesday morning, where he was joined by about 100 protesting drivers and bus escorts.
With the two sides pointing fingers, a coalition of bus companies filed two complaints with the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office, seeking an injunction to stop the strike. A spokeswoman for the NLRB said it could take up to 72 hours for the board to review the coalition’s arguments.