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Queens Chronicle

Council revisits school bus driver contracts

Union rallies outside City Hall hearing; says child safety at issue

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Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 7:12 am, Wed Apr 23, 2014.

When the union representing school bus drivers and matrons called off a one-month strike in February 2013, then-Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio was among the many political supporters who said they would, if elected, re-examine the issue that led to the picket lines — employee protection provisions.

Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union on March 27 organized a rally outside City Hall prior to a City Council Education Committee hearing on EPPs.

EPPs require private bus companies doing business with the city to hire from a list of the most experienced drivers and matrons.

The city last year eliminated the provisions from new bus contracts for handicapped children, citing a 2011 New York State Court of Appeals decision which found them illegal in a case filed by bus companies over preschool runs.

The new bus contracts were the first since 1979 without EPPs. The city agreed to the provisions as part of an overall labor settlement.

Union officials said Mayor Bloomberg and then-Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott could have added the provisions within the framework of the 2011 ruling had they wanted to. The city said it would reduce costs. The union said it would reduce experience and safety.

“Employee protection provisions ensure that our city’s school children are being transported to and from school every day by the most experienced and safest drivers and matrons available,” said Michael Cordiello, president of Local 1181, in a statement issued after the rally.

“I am optimistic that Mayor de Blasio and the City Council will do the right thing and reinstate the EPPs as soon as possible to ensure the safety of our city’s school children and restore stability to our industry,” he said. He may have been referring to Atlantic Express in Ridgewood, which filed for bankruptcy and closed at the end of 2013.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D Middle Village) spent time on the picket lines with drivers during the walkout. New Public Advocate Letitia James also has favored reinstating the protections.

But the operative phrase in Cordiello’s statement could be “as soon as possible” according to David Gregory, the Dorothy Day Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law and director of the school’s Center for Labor and Employment Law.

While none of the parties has yet set a specific road map for reinstating EPPs, some of the options include the City Council passing legislation to give them the force of law; the city and/or the union going to court in an attempt to invalidate the existing contracts for handicapped students; or sitting down with the bus companies to try and negotiate the provisions into existing or future contracts.

Gregory said the former two would be undertaken with at least some risk for the drivers’ union.

“I think all parties want to settle this at the bargaining table,” Gregory said.

The professor said it would be “very difficult” for the union to invalidate existing contracts in court.

He added that should the Council pass rules requiring EPPs in future contracts, one or more bus companies might go to court. The city then would risk an outcome that relied on the 2011 appellate decision as precedent.

Though school bus drivers are not city employees, Gregory also said that the more than 150 expired municipal labor contracts also could come into play if they decided to try and negotiate EPP provisions with the bus companies.

Published reports have said at least some unions have been offered the framework for nine-year contracts as a means of making up for lost raises over time. Gregory said that is the kind of creativity that the de Blasio administration might find useful in dealing with an unprecedented labor situation.

CORRECTION

This article originally had two numbers transposed in the union local's name. It is Local 1181. We regret the error.

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