Washington may soon intervene in the school bus strike that has left parents of about 150,000 New York City school children scrambling for alternative transportation since last week.
The National Labor Relations Board has stepped into the dispute that is pitting the Bloomberg administration against more than 7,000 school bus drivers.
An NLRB complaint was filed on Jan. 17 by private bus companies with city contracts. The strike affects approximately 11 percent of children served by school buses in New York City.
A school bus strike in 1979 lasted 14 weeks.
The mayor and the Department of Education are seeking to bid out about 1,000 bus routes that are covered by contracts set to expire.
The city says bidding is aimed at cost savings that could bring the cost per pupil more into line with other large cities.
The drivers, as well as bus aides, are seeking to include an employee protection provision into any new contract proposal, which would guarantee that current drivers keep their jobs no matter which companies win the bids.
The city says recent rulings by the state Appellate Division and Court of Appeals make inclusion of such provisons illegal.
Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents the drivers, claims that the provision could be added if Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott chose to do so
“We have just begun our investigation, and we don’t expect it to be concluded before the end of the week,” Tony Wagner, a spokesman for the NLRB, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
The strikers got some support Thursday morning when Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) joined their picket line in Ridgewood.
The drivers are not public employees, but work for the bus companies.
Michael Trizulino, a shop steward for the union and a driver for the last 36 years, said last Thursday morning that to his knowledge there had been no movement toward a settlement.
“The spirits on the line here are good,” he said. “We’re in this for the long haul. This is about our salaries and pensions. This is our occupation, our job. We are professional, trained bus drivers.”
He said Bloomberg “needs to start acting like a mayor and less like an employer trying to save some money.”
Crowley too said the mayor needs to be more preoccupied with safety than with cost savings.
“The city’s first priority must be keeping our schoolchildren safe, and that begins and ends with experienced bus drivers and matrons who bring our students to and from school,” she said.
Albert Serrano, who has been driving 18 years, said there is a reason he and the other drivers have lasted so long.
“We undergo background checks, not like some people they might get to replace us,” he said. “We are fingerprinted. We’re tested regularly for alcohol and drugs. We’re trained in CPR. The safety of the children is our first responsibility.”