The school bus strike has drawn a sharp line between some of the Democrats and Republicans vying to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
For Democrats, who are closely aligned with labor, the strike presents a conundrum. The candidates are courting labor unions to help them through a crowded primary. But they also can’t be seen as unsympathetic to the children and families who will be left stranded during the winter strike. Maybe that’s why some of them prefer to criticize Bloomberg. Here’s what they told us when asked where they stand on the strike, on the night before it began:
Sal Albanese, former Brooklyn City Council member
“This whole situation is a disaster for our students and their education. It’s truly unfortunate that the Mayor, the Chancellor and union officials could not hammer this out before it turned 150,000 kids into pawns in a political fight. A settlement should have been negotiated before it got this far. The fact that it wasn’t is further evidence of the dysfunction of our political system and the effect it has on the everyday lives of New Yorkers.”
Bill De Blasio, Public Advocate
De Blasio attended the union’s press conference Monday announcing the strike. He did not join the labor leaders who surrounded Local 1181 president Michael Cordiello. But he did speak to reporters before he left.
“I’m saying the mayor has to step in and resolve this,” he said, when asked if his presence indicated he supports the union in striking. “I say this as a public school parent and I think all parents are feeling this. The mayor can resolve this issue by coming to the table and working with the union. These are employee protections we’ve had for decades. There’s no reason in the world we can’t fix this problem.”
De Blasio has called for competitive bidding of school bus contracts. But a spokesperson said he always supported continuing the employee protections.
Christine Quinn, City Council Speaker
“There are no winners in a school bus strike. My primary concerns are with New York City’s students and parents. I appreciate the importance of experienced workers but also recognize the legal challenges related to employment protections. I urge all parties to step back and explore all options, including a possible solution in Albany if needed, so that we may avoid a strike at this time.”
Quinn has also called for competitive bidding to lower the $1 billion annual costs of busing the city’s students.
John Liu, City Comptroller
“Employee-protection provisions are necessary not just for the bus drivers, but also for the safe and reliable transport of city schoolchildren. City Hall’s behavior has been outrageous, and it needs to negotiate with workers immediately to avoid a disruption in school-bus service. The bottom line is: This is about the quality and safety of the busing we provide our special-needs students. Once again, the administration is displaying a pattern of disregard for human needs.”
William Thompson, former City Comptroller
“A school bus strike would be an unfortunate occurrence for all involved and I hope that it can be avoided. The disruption to thousands of families would be painful and we must try at all costs to bring solutions to the bargaining table rather than intransigence. As I have stated before, the bus contracts should be re-bid to include job protections that will minimize disruption for our school children, maintain the jobs of experienced drivers and, importantly, save taxpayers’ money. Our children and their families are now caught in a political tug-of-war initiated by the Mayor that must be prevented.”
The bus strike also poses a challenge to some of the Republicans. Tom Allon, Adolpho Carrion and George McDonald are former Democrats who changed parties in order to weigh a run for mayor.
Tom Allon, owner of Manhattan Media publishing
“There is always a middle ground in negotiations and always a way to save money at the same time. No union ever wants its members to lose gains won, especially after years and years, and yet there is always a way to give something to get something. But there is no evidence that this has been the case here on either side. The transport services for special needs kids require expertise and professionalism. Companies bidding for these services should be required to guarantee that they will provide the level of service expected after all these years. This can be arranged by a Department of Education that is skilled in getting something by giving something. The present DOE has not shown any willingness or ability to do that in this battle.”
On employment protection provisions, or EPP’s, McDonald said:
“The state Court of Appeals in 2011 barred the city from including EPP’s because of competitive bidding laws. Hence, the city cannot accept the union demand for an EPP clause. The issue of legality needs to be resolved before EPPs can be on the table for negotiation. In the meantime, our kids need to get to school. This concern should be paramount to all involved while bringing this dispute to a swift conclusion.”
Adolpho Carrion, former Bronx Borough President and former Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs
“This is another example in our education system where the needs of the adults interfere with the needs of the kids. I call on Dennis Walcott and the union to resolve this in a way that doesn’t impact our kids.”
Joseph Lhota, Former MTA Chairman
“What the union is asking for is illegal. And the union’s treatment of the school children is despicable.”
Doe Fund Founder George McDonald
McDonald issued a statement calling it “unconscionable that the union would put our children in harm’s way for any reason, let alone for the sake of job protections that a court has ruled illegal.” He cited the injury of firefighter Matt Long during the 2005 transit strike, when Long was hit by a charter bus.
McDonald urged Mayor Bloomberg to follow President Ronald Reagan’s lead in addressing the situation with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1811. In 1981, President Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who ignored his order to return to work.
“I respect the right of workers in the private sector to strike, but I also believe we have a basic obligation to get our students to school safely. Our children face enough obstacles receiving an education, getting to school in one piece shouldn’t be one of them. That is why I am urging the Mayor to tell union drivers to get back to work or move forward with bidding on new contracts.”
We reached out to the campaign of John Catsimatidis, CEO of Red Apple Group and Gristedes, but did not hear back