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January 2013, Week 3

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Tue, 15 Jan 2013 23:17:49 -0500
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NYC Bus Strike Kicks Off to Fight Privatization of Yellow
Buses

By Allison Kilkenny 

January 15, 2013
The Nation 

http://www.thenation.com/blog/172222/nyc-bus-strike-kicks-fight-privatization-yellow-buses

The president of the union representing New York City school
bus drivers announced earlier this week that a citywide
strike will be starting Wednesday morning. This will be the
first time in more than three decades that NYC’s largest
union for school bus drivers will strike.

Michael Cordiello of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit
Union said that more than 8,000 bus drivers and matrons -
workers who make sure children get on and off buses safely -
would take part in the strike in response to a dispute over
job protections in any new bus company contracts for the bus
routes.

The city wants to cut transportation costs and has put bus
contracts with private bus companies up for bid. The union is
criticizing lack of employee protections, fearing current
drivers may lose their jobs once contracts expire in June.

Writing for Alternet, Molly Knefel explains how the
privatization effort is part of a push for widespread
austerity:

The dispute is simple - it’s about saving money. As New York
City schools chancellor David Walcott has noted, the city has
operated its school-bus contracts without any "significant
competitive bidding" for 33 years. During that time,
something called "Employment Protection Provisions" ensured
job security for senior workers, even if the city changed bus
companies - meaning that experienced drivers were rehired
year after year. But the contracts have gotten too pricey;
more than twice what Los Angeles pays per student- and the
city now plans to offer the contracts to the "lowest
responsible bidder." The union representing the school-bus
drivers, Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, is
asking for Employment Protection Provisions to be included in
the new contract to protect workers from losing their jobs to
newer, cheaper labor. But due to a state court of appeals
decision last year, in which the court ruled to exclude the
provisions based on competitive bidding laws, the city says
its hands are tied.

Part of the significance of this dispute is that while the
importance of job protections for current bus drivers is
difficult to quantify, the city’s need to reduce the budget
is as plain and clear as the budget numbers themselves. In
the face of the millions of dollars the city stands to save
with cheaper contracts, why should it matter if, for example,
22,500 special-needs students find themselves with brand-new
bus drivers one day?

It matters because how we treat those who care for certain
children reflects how we value those children. It creates a
system in which workers entrusted to be responsible for a
child’s safety are utterly replaceable in the name of
protecting the bottom line.

Even though under the city’s strike contingency plans,
students, parents, or guardians would receive free MetroCards
for mass transit, some politicians immediately rushed to
condemn the strike and bus drivers.

Fully embracing the false paradigm that school contract
disputes pit parents against education employees, Democratic
NYC Council member David G. Greenfield tweeted, "School bus
strike is 1st major test for NYC mayoral candidates. Whose
side will they take: parents or unions?"

Greenfield then goes on to use the example of special needs
children - not to illustrate the importance of protecting
workers’ jobs as Knefel did in the above passage—but to
depict striking drivers as being selfish.

When a parent responded to Greenfield that she is a parent
and supporter of the striking drivers, he tweeted, "That’
very nice. I have dozens of parents of special needs children
who have no way to get their kids to school b/c of strike,"
and "the victims are the children. Especially the special
needs children - many of whom won’t be able to get to
school."

Valdes-Dapena, the mother of a 10-year-old, told the AP, "I’m
concerned about what happens if the drivers lose their
seniority, if they’re less experienced. You can teach someone
to drive a school bus, but what happens when all hell breaks
loose behind them?" She added it takes experience to deal
with situations like bus breakdowns, medical emergencies of
kids with special needs or traffic, when kids get frustrated
or unruly. "The drivers we have now - I’d trust them with my
own life," she said.

Any time a labor dispute like this arises, leadership from
the top-down rushes to blame selfish workers for putting
children in jeopardy rather than addressing issues of job
security, privatization and how children are far more likely
to suffer under budget cuts and teacher layoffs, while trying
to learn in hostile education environments monitored by
overworked, under-paid educators, than they are to suffer
during a hiatus to settle a labor dispute.

Mayor Bloomberg perfectly demonstrated the "think of the
children!" concern trolling when he remarked, "We hope that
the union will reconsider its irresponsible and misguided
decision to jeopardize our students’ education." (Note: This
concern for the children was missing when Bloomberg cut
millions from after school programs.)

Herein lies the false choice. It’s not the children versus
the bus drivers, but a choice between living wages and jobs
with dignity, and the forces of privatization threatening
workers everywhere.

© 2013 The Nation 

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