School bus strike may end Friday

By Phil Corso

After more than a monthlong work stoppage, union school bus drivers could be back in the driver’s seat as early as next week, sources said.

Several sources close to the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 told the New York Post Friday that the decision to suspend the strike will be made public that evening during a town hall conference call with union leadership.

The sticking point has been the continuation of job protections for the school bus drivers, but it was not known whether that issue had been resolved.

The news came less than 24 hours after the city’s Democratic mayoral candidates City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio, Comptroller John Liu, and former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson penned a letter Thursday night to the more than 9,000 members of ATU Local 1181 promising to revisit the possibility of job guarantees in future contracts if elected.

“We continue to stand with you in your battle for job security and decent wages,” part of the letter read. “We know this is not an easy decision. But we pledge, if elected, to revisit the school bus transportation system and contracts and take effective action to insure that the important job security, wages and benefits of your members are protected within the bidding process, while at the same time are fiscally responsible for taxpayers.”

The candidates urged the union to consider ending the strike on the promise that better days were ahead of them, prompting a quick response from union leadership.

“We view this request to suspend the current strike as an earnest effort on behalf of the city, its children and its workers,” ATU President Larry Hanley said in a statement Friday. “I will be discussing options this afternoon and evening with the leaders and members of Local 1181.”

Since the union decided to go on strike Jan. 16, its leadership has been in a public spat with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city’s Department of Education over whether or not job protections in the form of an Employee Protection Provision could be included in new contracts.

The union struck after Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott insisted their demands could not be met following a 2011 state Court of Appeals ruling that blocked job protections specifically for pre-kindergarten contracts.

The strike has left more than 150,000 of the city’s students without rides to school over the last month — 54,000 of whom have disabilities and require special transportation arrangements, the DOE said.

Earlier Friday, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) joined with ATU Local 1181 Vice President Edward Gigliotti to lend some political clout to the union with hopes of putting an end to the strike once and for all. According to Gigliotti, replacement drivers who operated some routes during the strike have not performed, contributing to multiple school bus accidents in the city.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.