Yellow school buses whose drivers walked off the job a month ago are moving once again.
ATU Local 1811 announced last Friday that its strike, which began five weeks ago, would end when students returned from their abridged winter recess on Wednesday.
The union called the strike over the Department of Education’s plans to bid more than 1,000 routes citywide in an effort to cut costs without including a provision that would protect existing workers. The city said it was barred from including the clause by a ruling from the state’s highest court, but the union said the administration could and should fight the decision.
The bids are the first for school bus routes in over 30 years.
In a statement released last week, Local 1811 President Michael Cordello said the union would continue to fight for employee protections.
“Though our strike has been suspended, the principles that we fight for remain pressing issues that the city will have to address,” the statement read. “The fact is, a safe workforce is an experienced workforce and the employee protection provisions currently included in the city’s busing contracts protect our most experienced drivers, matrons, and mechanics — and have created one of the safest workforces in the entire country. We continue to be dismayed by the Bloomberg administration, which offered no assistance in bringing this strike to a close and, furthermore, continued to mislead the public that the drivers, who make an average of $35,000 per year; and the matrons who make at most $28,000 per year, are somehow the driving force behind rising school bus transportation costs.”
Cordello went on to say he expects the next mayoral administration, which will take office next January, to be more responsive to the union’s requests. Five of the declared or likely Democratic candidates for mayor — Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, former Comptroller Bill Thompson and former Councilman Sal Albanese — have all said they would revisit the issue of job protection clauses if they win the election, according to a letter to Local 1811 that the quintet signed during the strike.
Despite the walkout, the city opened up the routes to new bids last week. In a statement released Monday, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the new bids will include “the same safety provisions and requirements as the old contracts,” but a DOE spokesperson would not say if that included a clause that would protect current employees.
“As the mayor and I made clear from the start of this process, bidding out these contracts was not only good for our school system, but important for our city and taxpayers,” the chancellor’s statement read. “Last week, the city accepted the first significant bids on school-age bus contracts in more than 30 years, with the potential to cut costs, transfer the savings to classrooms and secure better bus service for our students.”
The city said the cost of bus service has soared to over $1 billion, and the new bids are aimed at saving money. Ironically, Walcott said the city actually saved $80 million during the strike because striking drivers were not paid.
More than 150,000 students — mainly those in special education programs — were affected by the strike, which began on Jan. 16, though most school bus service continued in the city. Approximately 800 students were rerouted during the strike and some had to travel through multiple boroughs to get to school.
But the students did get there.
According to Walcott’s statement, class attendance jumped from 49 percent the first day of the strike to 78 percent on the walkout’s last day.
During the strike, the DOE offered MetroCards or reimbursements for cab fare and gas mileage for parents who had to find alternative modes of transportation for their children. Walcott said the city will still honor those reimbursements for costs endured up through last Friday as long as the correct paperwork is submitted within 30 days of Feb. 18.
“We encourage families to get these forms in as soon as possible so that we can process them and get the payments out,” he said in his statement.
Walcott said those who received special student and parent MetroCards should return them to the school they were distributed from. Those MetroCards were deactivated on Wednesday.