By Phil Corso
A looming threat to strike by city school bus drivers could strand as many as 150,000 students, including thousands with special needs, if the union gives workers the green light, the city Department of Education said this week.
Though leadership of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 threatened to pull the emergency brake on the city’s yellow school buses as early as Monday, drivers showed up for work with warnings that a potential walkout was still possible in the coming days.
The labor dispute comes on the heels of an ongoing conflict between the ATU and employers that work for the DOE, with drivers demanding job security in any new bus contracts awarded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office.
ATU Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello said workers have been backed into a corner while employers try to make them settle for less than they feel they deserve.
“The employers want to save the city money on the backs of our members. We will not be part of any race to the bottom,” Cordiello said. “The safety of the schoolchildren we transport, and the future of our families, and our communities, depend on the wages, benefits and work rules that Local 1181 members have fought for and won over many years.”
City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the possible union strike prompted precautionary measures to curb the damage that would affect more than 152,000 students — 54,000 of whom have disabilities and require special transportation arrangements.
“The union is asking for something we cannot legally deliver and is putting a central and necessary service at risk,” Walcott said. “A strike would be irresponsible and would adversely impact our students and their families who rely on bus service to get to and from school. As the city continues to take all possible precautions in advance of a potential strike, we are asking parents to make a plan in the event that busing is disrupted.”
In anticipation of a strike, Walcott announced several protocols to help families of students who rely on yellow bus service, making MetroCards available to students and parents and also posting crucial material covered in schools online for students to follow from home.
Union leadership said any new bids must include the jobs guarantee in the form of an Employee Protection Provision, which Walcott said was impossible after a 2011 state Court of Appeals ruling blocked it specifically for pre-kindergarten bus contracts.
Little Neck father Gerard Sardina drives his 5-year-old autistic son Andrew to his Fresh Meadows school every day, but said the potential strike still terrified him when considering how important bus transportation was for special-needs children who attend after-school programs where transportation is limited.
“The disaster that would happen at my son’s school would be of epic proportions,” Sardina said. “The kids there get bused to other places after school. So aside from getting to and from school, this would be bad news for the after-school programs.”
New York City spends roughly $1.1 billion, or $6,900 per student, each year on buses, Walcott said — the highest in the country.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.