New York City schoolchildren may need a ride to school in January.
The union representing the city’s school bus drivers is threatening a strike after the holidays.
“That would make it a lot harder for many students to get to school — and in a year when our students have already missed a week or more of school because of Hurricane Sandy — striking against our schoolchildren, we think, would be totally irresponsible,” Mayor Bloomberg said Friday, announcing the possibility of a strike.
The union, Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, based in Ozone Park, threatened to strike last November when the city sought bids for some routes, but in the end did not.
The strike is being threatened because the city is bidding out the routes of 22,500 students between kindergarten and 12th grade with special needs. Drivers want assurances from the city on job protection based on seniority in the new bids, but the city has not agreed to that, stating that a Court of Appeals ruling last year makes it illegal to provide those assurances in bid requests.
But Local 1181 said in a statement that Bloomberg’s move would violate the city’s contracts with the unions, which include a measure called the Employee Protection Provision, which the union says is meant to keep “the most qualified, experienced and skilled school bus staff” on the job in the event of new operator bids.
“Mayor Bloomberg’s cavalier attitude is unacceptable, and we cannot stand by while City officials cut costs at the expense of our children,” the statement said. “We are weighing all of our options, and are prepared to take any action necessary to protect the safety and security of New York City school children.”
Bloomberg said that the new bid requests would be the first in more than three decades and are being issued because of exploding costs.
“DOE has not bid out most of its bus contracts since 1979 — 33 years ago. Since then, the Department of Education’s cost for busing has escalated from $71 million in 1979 to $1.1 billion a year today — an increase of something like about 1,550 percent,” Bloomberg explained.
Though the bids only affect routes for the 22,500 special needs students, a strike could affect 150,000 kids who use the yellow buses to get to and from schools. Bloomberg said in the event of a strike, students would receive temporary, free student MetroCards that would be valid for the length of the action, and the MTA would have to accommodate the additional riders. Parents with students in grade 2 and below could request an additional MetroCard for a parent to escort their child to school.
Also, parents of students grade 6 and younger who live in areas where public transportation is not an option to get to school could get reimbursed for transportation costs.
The MetroCards and reimbursements would only be valid for children whose yellow buses are canceled due to a strike.