A possible school bus strike could give more than 150,000 families a rude awakening when they send their children back to school after the holiday break that began Friday.
As Chris Yu, the parent of a child who is bused to school, told PIX11 News, losing the convenience of school bus service would “be horrendous, a disaster, obviously.” That’s because families that live far from city bus routes and subway lines — especially families with children with special needs — rely on school buses as their primary sources of transportation.
Specifically, 152,000 students ride school buses every day, and they’re driven by about 8,000 bus drivers, whose union, Amalgamated Transit 1181 Local, may authorize a strike beginning January 2nd, when students head back to class.
The move would affect the families of both the students and the bus drivers, as one driver who does not want to strike pointed out.
“It’s better to work,” he told PIX11 News. “Especially in these times.”
However, if the city, bus company owners, and the union don’t all see eye-to-eye, the labor action may go ahead.
School bus service in New York City is carried out by private bus companies, some with such colorful and questionable names as Little Richie’s Bus Company, or Grandpa’s Bus Co. Many of the drivers for those companies are members of the union. It’s trying to ensure that certain senior unionized bus company employees’ jobs are protected under any new contracts the city may sign with bus companies.
However, Mayor Bloomberg says that the law prohibits the city from having senior employee protection provisions in new contracts.
“We are not permitted to do what they ask,” the mayor said at a news conference at City Hall with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. “So to strike,” Bloomberg said, “would not only be unfair, it would also be pointless.”
Another issue between City Hall and bus companies and their employees is cost. “It’s gone up 1500 percent,” the mayor said about the price tag on the city’s school bus contract since 1979.
That was the year that there was a bitter three month-long strike by school bus drivers that resulted in the current contract, which has been in effect ever since.
During the 1979 strike, the city procured jail inmate buses to transport some students. Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott tried to assure parents that the same won’t happen this time, if there is a strike.
They said the city has secured extra Metrocards for families’ children to use on city buses and on the subway if their school bus route gets shut down due to a strike. They also said that parents would be reimbursed 55 cents per mile if they have to drive their children to school.
One significant logistical issue may cause problems, however. In a letter sent home to New York City schools families on Friday, the chancellor indicated that the extra student Metrocards “should be requested through [each] school’s general office” when school resumes.
However, in order to make that request, parents and students must first get to their schools’ administrative offices. If there is a strike on January 2nd, accomplishing that task may not only be a significant challenge, it could also cause confusion, delays and possibly truancy.
Mayor Bloomberg said that if there is a strike, all arrivals up to two hours late would be excused.
PIX11 not contacted the Amalgamated Transit Union 1181 by phone multiple times and in person regarding this story. The Transit Union’s president, Michael Cordiello did not respond to PIX11’s numerous requests for comment.