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Queens Chronicle

School bus drivers walk out over bids

Union calls strike as city eliminates job protection in new bid contracts

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Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:40 am, Thu Jan 24, 2013.

More than 150,000 city children were looking for rides to school this week.

A yellow school bus driver union representing roughly 9,000 drivers called a strike starting Wednesday over the city’s plan to bid more than 1,000 routes, but not include provisions in the bid contracts that protect the jobs of current employees.

The union — Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, based in Ozone Park — approved the strike on Monday afternoon and called for a walkout starting Wednesday. They argue that the Employee Protection Provision in the contracts is important to safety.

“Safely transporting our children back and forth school today has, and always will be, the top priority of every man and woman who make up ATU Local 1181,” the union said in a statement. “The Employee Protection Provision is directly linked to the safety and security of our children by ensuring the city’s most qualified, skilled and experienced school bus crews remain on the job, and has been a cornerstone of these contracts for over50 years.”

But a 2011 New York Court of Appeals ruling declared such a clause in a bid contract illegal, and Mayor Bloomberg said his hands were tied because of it.

“Let me be clear: the union’s decision to strike has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with job protections that the city legally cannot include in its bus contracts,” he said in a statement on Monday. “We hope that the union will reconsider its irresponsible and misguided decision to jeopardize our students’ education.”

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott reiterated that the city was not legally able to add the provision to the contracts at a Monday evening town hall sponsored by District 30’s Community Education Council at PS 234 in Astoria.

“What the union wants us to do has been ruled illegal by the New York Court of Appeals,” he said. “We cannot do this.”

But the union says the city is just using the court decision as an excuse to not have to include the EPPs in their bids.

Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello placed blame on the mayor for the strike as he stood with workers picketing outside a bus depot on Metropolitan Avenue in Ridgewood Wednesday morning. Cordiello said the EPPs are not illegal, but the city would have to justify their inclusion in the contracts.

“Despite public pronouncements, it is not illegal to put EPPs in the bids,” he said. “Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott continue to hide behind the Court of Appeals decision, which is inaccurate in their determination. It is not illegal for the EPPs to be in the bid, they merely need to prove a record as to why it should be in, and we have a 34-year record.”

Striking workers marched back and forth on the sidewalk near the bus depot as some passersby in cars and trucks — and even an MTA bus — honked in solidarity.

Cordiello said the union would not back down from having the EPPs included in the bids and were prepared to stay off the jobs for weeks if need be.

“[Mayor Bloomberg] has put our backs to the wall,” he said. “We have no choice but to fight for our jobs.”

Since there are multiple unions representing bus drivers, most school buses are running. At least one union — Teamsters Local 854 — said it wouldn’t strike, but would not cross picket lines, according to a statement from its president, Dan Gatto.

“Our contracts do not allow for [us to strike] and we will honor those contracts,” the statement said. “However, we believe our contracts also allow us to honor picket lines from members of the ATU, and we will not cross their picket lines.”

Cordiello said a number of unions have supported the Local 1181 strike, but would not take their own job actions because of their own internal decisions or contracts that ban a strike.

The city had been warning about the potential of a bus drivers strike since last month and put together a contingency plan for students and parents in the event of a strike, which the DOE then put into effect on Wednesday.

Students who are affected receive special MetroCards and an extra one is given to a parent of a student who is in second grade or younger so the parent may accompany the child to school. Further, parents can be reimbursed for the cost of driving their kids to school at 55 cents per mile. If a parent chooses to send their children to school in a cab, the cost of the ride will also be reimbursed.

On Tuesday, the Taxi and Limousine Commission called on all cab drivers to be prepared for the strike.

“Due to the impending citywide school bus strike that could affect as many as 152,000 schoolchildren and their families, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission requests that all taxicab and for-hire service providers be prepared for additional service demand and take steps to ensure that as many drivers and vehicles are available and ready to address this anticipated additional demand,” the TLC said in a statement.

According to the DOT, the contingency plan will remain in place for as long as the strike continues.

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