New York School Bus Driver Strike Looms, Union Blasts
By JOY RESMOVITS and Dave JAMIESON
The Huffington Post
Jan. 15, 2013
NEW YORK -- As New York City school bus drivers head
toward a strike, slated for Wednesday morning, the
national president of the drivers' union accused Mayor
Michael Bloomberg of trying to gut standards for
workers in public services, comparing the mayor to
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who controversially
rolled back collective bargaining rights for public
employees in that state.
"This is the New York equivalent of Scott Walker's
attempts to strip workers in public services of their
wages and benefits," Larry Hanley, president of the
190,000-member Amalgamated Transit Union, told The
Huffington Post. "That's what it's intended to do. It
is an assault on the foundation of decent wages and
decent health care and decent retirement standards."
Bloomberg, in turn, has accused the union of
"abandoning" the city's students. "With its regrettable
decision to strike, the union is abandoning 152,000
students and their families who rely on school bus
service each day," Bloomberg said in a Monday
statement. The mayor's office didn't immediately
respond to Hanley's comments Tuesday. As Chicago
teachers did during a high-profile strike there last
year, the bus drivers' union has tried to turn the
dispute in New York into a debate over students' best
interests. While city officials have said a strike
would be irresponsible and hurt students and parents,
the union argues that it's merely trying to maintain
high working standards and protect children from
cheaper, inexperienced labor.
Bloomberg has touted a strike emergency plan that would
compensate students for the cost of public
transportation and car transportation to and from
school during the strike. But some parents are wary of
sending students with disabilities on mass transit,
armed only with MetroCards.
Transporting those students is at the center of the
fight between the city and the union -- the contested
routes serve 54,000 students with disabilities,the
Daily News reported. The city announced last month it
would solicit bids from companies to operate some bus
routes, many of which serve the city's District 75, a
district with schools designed especially for students
with special needs. Those new contracts would undercut
seniority and pay provisions that Hanley and the
drivers say are crucial to maintaining standards in the
city's bus system.
The city does not employ its school bus drivers, who
work for private firms, but it does bid out the
contracts. Due to an appeals court ruling, city
officials have claimed they are legally obliged to omit
the provisions at issue from the city's bus contracts.
In a press conference Monday, Bloomberg said that the
city can't legally offer what the union is asking for,
and that it has a responsibility to find cost savings
in the bus system.
"The monies that we spend on transportation are monies
we don't have to put into our school system," Bloomberg
said, adding that the city spends $1.1 billion a year
on student transportation, or $6,900 per student. The
school system's latest budget was $24 billion.
Speaking of the seniority and pay provisions for
drivers, Hanley countered, "This is the agreement that
has made it possible for workers to have careers in
Hoping to make its case to the public, the union
released an ad Tuesday casting the city's proposal as
dangerous and showing montages of wrecked school buses.
"When inexperienced drivers take your kids to school,
sometimes they never get there," the narrator intones.
Bloomberg rejects the contention that ceding to the
union would preserve safety. Lauren Passalacqua, a
mayoral spokeswoman, told HuffPost that bus drivers
hired under the new contract would still require the
same trainings, exams and certifications. "They'll
argue they have more experienced drivers driving but
the drivers still have annual training and exams, so
that doesn't change," she said.
The issues contested in the school bus strike echo
problems Bloomberg has had with other unions involved
with the school system -- particularly the United
Federation of Teachers. Like other proponents of the
so-called education reform movement, Bloomberg wants to
reject the union's lockstep compensation scheme that
prizes teacher seniority above all.
That dispute is expensive. If Bloomberg and the UFT
don't come to an agreement on teacher evaluations
within two days, the city could lose $300 million in
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