On Wednesday, January 16, New York City unionized yellow school bus drivers went on strike. The strike affected more than half of the city's school buses. The New York Times charged the problem was years of waste in a corrupt and mismanaged system.
The previous Sunday, New York City schools chancellor Dennis Walcott predicted that a strike by yellow school bus operators was inevitable and called the 9,000 unionized driver "irresponsible and disrespectful" to students and parents. In the event of a strike, the city is preparing to provide parents and students with MetroCards for use on subways and public buses and even reimburse people for cab fare. Over 150,000 public and private school children ride the yellow buses to school.
The dispute between the city and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 is the result of a decision by the Bloomberg administration to allow competitive bidding for school bus contracts. Lower bids by alternative providers would mean no job security for current school bus drivers and lower wages and fewer benefits in the future. Since 1979 any new bus contractors were required to hire working school bus drivers in order of seniority and at the same pay rate.
Mayor Michael Bloombergclaims the competitive bids are the result of a 2011 court decision by the state Court of Appeals prohibiting the city from including the protective provisions in new contracts. According to Bloomberg "There's nothing the city can do to meet the union's demands." However, in a radio address, he also let slip his real agenda. Bloomberg explained already implemented contractual changes for pre-school bussing will save the city $95 million over five years and predicted bigger savings when new wage and benefit scales for the yellow school bus drivers went into affect. The Bloomberg administration is supported by bus companies that smell increased profits at the expense of the drivers. Three contractors are filing unfair labor practice claims against the union with the National Labor Relations Board and they are threatening the union with a civil suit that would bankrupt its treasury.
According to the job search website Salary.com, New York City school bus drivers are far from overpaid. Their average annual salary is less than $37,000 or about $18 an hour. A family of five, living on this salary in New York City, would be considered to be living in poverty according to some measures. Some of the families of full-time workers are eligible for food stamps.
In the past, officers of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 were accused of ties to organized crime figures, but there is no evidence that the unionized school bus drivers were involved or that current union officials are implicated.
Who do you want driving your child's school bus - a highly skilled, trained, and experienced driver who knows our children and community, or someone learning on the job? At the end of the day, that is the only question that truly matters to parents regarding the busing of their children to school, and it is why it is so important that we support our New York City school bus drivers and matrons.
For the first time in over 30 years, New York City issued bids for school bus service without inclusion of the Employee Protection Provision (EPP). Although this may simply sound like a labor safeguard, make no mistake, this provision is directly linked to the safety and security of our children by ensuring that the City's most qualified, skilled, and experienced school bus crews remain on the job.
The EPP helps create industry wide seniority and ensure an experienced workforce - union and non-union. This is critical. Although new drivers may receive training, training does not replace years of experience driving on New York City Streets in the third largest transportation system in the country.
This move not only affects the general education population of school children, but would particularly impact New York City's special education children -- children who are most in need of the steadiness, reliability, and consistency that an experienced workforce offers.
We all want to ensure that the City operates as efficiently as possible. The EPP has never been shown to increase costs, but its absence will certainly come at the cost of our children's safety.
I demand the inclusion of the Employee Protection Provision in any bidding process for our children's school bus services. New York City children deserve the best -- the most qualified, skilled, and experienced school bus crews. New York City must put the safety of our children first.