By Jill Colvin and Jess Wisloski
NEW YORK CITY — Yellow school buses began making pickups Monday morning, as the drivers' union prepared for a strike this week that would leave 150,000 students without rides, sources said.
A spokeswoman for the union declined to comment Sunday, but sources said the strike is likely to begin Wednesday.
Union officials, including President Michael Cordiello, are planning a briefing in Midtown Monday morning to update parents and elected officials about their plans, according to a notice circulating Sunday.
The strike, which has been threatened since late December, stems from a labor dispute between the bus drivers' Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 and the Department of Education, which for the first time in 33 years is trying to bid out new contracts for 1,100 bus routes for children with special needs to save cash.
The city's busing costs have spiked from $71 million in 1979 to $1.1 billion today, according to the DOE, which maintains the approximately $6,900 per student could be better spent in the classroom.
But the union is demanding the new contacts include job protections for their 7,700 existing workers — protections city officials say they are legally barred from offering.
The union also claims the city's plans will leave the most vulnerable children in the care of private transit providers with unqualified drivers who don't have the standards, training and experience that union drivers have.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott spent Sunday advising parents about how to prepare for the strike, which Bloomberg slammed as "irresponsible" and "misguided" following the disruptions caused by SuperStorm Sandy.
“The city is prepared to provide those who use yellow bus service with the support they need, and put other resources to use if a strike is called," Walcott said in a statement. "Our goal is to make sure students get to school, and to pursue contracts that are safe and more reasonably priced, so that we can direct those savings in the classroom where they belong."