Yellow school bus drivers were still on the job as of Wednesday, but the threat of a strike remained alive.
Mayor Bloomberg announced late last month that school bus drivers could strike at any time because of an ongoing dispute between the city and the bus drivers’ union — Ozone Park-based Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 — over the bidding of about 1,100 routes. The city has opted to bid the routes for the first time in over 30 years in order to save money. The Department of Education says it costs taxpayers nearly $7,000 per student for bus service, which is more than twice what is spent on busing in other large school districts.
The union wants the city to include in bids a rule that new companies would have to protect the jobs of current employees. The city’s response: We would if we could.
Bloomberg said the city cannot legally put employee protection clauses in contracts, pointing to a recent ruling from the New York State Court of Appeals that explicitly banned employee protection clauses. But the union says the city could fight the ruling in court and win.
Bus drivers marched in front of City Hall on Sunday, but did not call a strike on Monday, as many had feared. Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello said a strike would be a “final option” for the union.
But the DOE isn’t taking any chances. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott outlined contingency plans in case of a strike, which would leave 152,000 schoolchildren, mostly special-needs students, without transportation. MetroCards would be distributed in schools to students and parents who choose to drive their kids themselves would be reimbursed for gas and toll charges. The DOE would also post material online for parents who choose to teach their kids at home during the strike.
There is no specific date when a strike could be called. The bidding process was opened in December and bids will be accepted through mid-February with a final selection of new operators in May.