NYC school bus strike over; drivers return to work Feb. 20

At first, the picket line at the school bus yard at Zerega and Haviland Avenues in the Bronx went around the clock.  After a couple of weeks, it reduced its hours to 9:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.  On Friday afternoon, after four weeks and two days on strike, the picketers went home.

“If the union wants us to go back [to work], we’ll go back,” said picket captain Vincent Cristiano minutes before the picket line shut down.  Clearly, he was aware that his statement foreshadowed what was ahead.  Less than a half hour after he spoke with PIX11 News, the call came from union headquarters to send the picketers home.

Union leaders had a conference call with members at 7:00 P.M. Friday.    In it, Amalgamated Transit Union President Michael Cordiello told workers, “our Executive Board voted earlier this afternoon to suspend the five week strike, and return to work on Wednesday, February 20th.”  A written statement from Cordiello after the call confirmed it.

The move ending the strike that began on January 16 comes in the wake of union leaders receiving support from all of the candidates they feel may lead the city when Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s third term ends at the end of the year.

Bus strike over“Late last night, I received a letter signed by all of the  serious candidates for Mayor of New York City,” ATU International President Larry Hanley said in a written statement Friday morning.  “City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio, Comptroller John Liu, former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, and former City Councilman Sal Albanese – all pledging support for the principles for which  our members are currently fighting.”

Specifically, the candidates, all Democrats, expressed support for school bus drivers and matrons keeping their employee protection provision, or EPP, which protects job seniority.  Mayor Bloomberg had said repeatedly during the strike that state law does not allow the city to uphold such a provision in labor contracts.

The strike that left about 150,000 families either keeping children home, or struggling to find their own transportation ended not a day too soon for many people.  Tensions had been rising among drivers and matrons, after some of their non-unionized fellow workers stayed on the job, while strikers had to subsist on strike pay.

“Why did you take my picture?” one working driver who had spoken earlier with PIX11 on Friday shouted at a unionized, striking driver minutes later.  The union driver had angrily snapped a smartphone photo of the non-striking worker in front of a school minutes before the elementary students there were dismissed.

Meanwhile, at the Zerega Avenue bus lot, the strike captain put words to the tension that exists between drivers who stayed on the job and those that did not.

“We want to go back to work,” Cristiano said.  “We need the money.”

He also pointed out that some of the private bus companies that hold contracts with the city’s Department of Education and employ unionized workers had begun hiring non-unionized, untrained workers.  It was happening, Cristiano told PIX11, while union workers who had weeks of training and years of experience had to stand and watch as the inexperienced, non-union drivers rolled by.

It did not appear that Republican mayoral candidate and former MTA chairman Joe Lhota had expressed support for the striking workers.   One thing was clear, though.  The bus drivers’ union and its membership were by no means pleased with how the current mayor handled the labor dispute that had lasted more than a month.

“A few things are decidedly clear,” Cordiello said in a statement on Friday afternoon, “that Mayor Bloomberg has shown an alarming lack of leadership throughout this entire process, instead opting to divide our city. He has put the children, especially those who need the safety and experience that our membership provides the most, at risk.”

BELOW IS THE  FULL STATEMENT FROM THE UNION

“Though our strike has been suspended, the principles that we fight for remain pressing issues that the City will have to address. 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/year and the matrons who make an at most $28,000/year, are somehow the driving force behind rising school bus transportation costs.

“In January when Mayor Bloomberg is gone, we are comfortable that his entire scheme will be rejected. We are grateful that so many elected leaders in this city are choosing the facts as a path to a conclusion, rather than a conclusion as a path to the facts.”

7 comments

  • JNez

    I am a replacement driver that was hired by the company represented in this report. Replacement drivers received the same amount of initial training that striking drivers did; the pace was simply accelerated in the interest of resuming bus service as soon as possible. We had to pass drug screens, criminal background checks and be certified by the Department of Education. We received 3 full days of behind the wheel training before we were assigned routes. Department of Education inspectors were at the yards every morning ensuring that every driver was properly certified. I learned to navigate my route rapidly and efficiently after only one day. Striking workers were aghast that they were replaced so quickly with equally well trained drivers. Replacement drivers were told after our shift today that even though the strike was ending to report to the yard on Wednesday morning, the same day striking workers are due to return. Now that's going to be interesting.

    • Sammy

      Don't even count of ever getting into the union… Now the company will just keep you as a substitute driver FOREVER and your chances of getting a steady run run and enjoy the benefits of the regular union drivers are ZIPPO… I can guarantee that… The union has EPP contracts until 2015 so they are still the ones at the private companies at least till then… That's just a consequence of crossing a picket line… The union has already vowed to post at each yard, the names of those that crossed the picket lines.. You would have been better off to just wait and apply for the job after the strike was over, but of course the process wouldn't have taken a few days to get the job like it did for you because even if you don't want to admit it, the only reason you were allowed to drive a bus with the little training you received was because there was a strike going on and they needed just any warm body behind the wheel of a bus.

    • John

      Thank you for not letting the strikers intimidate you and prevent you from driving our children. I hope that you get to keep your job. It only seems fair. Someone walks out of a job for a month should not just walk back into that job if someone else has been hired. Join one of the other unions. Good luck to you.

  • bud

    the strike was poorly planned and the people on the picket line was as usual used.you lost to bloomberg and he beat you.you received pledges from the democrats who are going to re visit the issue.thats it what if and independent runs or a republican wins then what?

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