OCEANSIDE, NY — Tens of thousands of local families now try to figure out how they'll get their children to school this week, as talks between one of the area's largest bus companies and its drivers wear on.
Monday was the first day of the strike by about 300 drivers in the Transport Workers Union Local 252 against the Baumann Bus Company. The walkout, which the union had warned about last Friday and over the weekend, left 20,000 students stranded across four southern Nassau County school districts — Baldwin, Freeport, Hicksville and Rockville Centre. Students at a number of private and parochial schools, and some public school programs in parts of Queens and Brooklyn were also impacted.
"Pay me a decent salary," said Willam Eason, a bus driver on the picket line across from the Baumann bus yard here. "Give me some sick time, give me some guaranteed days, some vacation time, things most people want."
He said that the lack of those conditions, guaranteed in a contract, forced him and his fellow workers to walk.
"We love our kids. I miss mine," said Blaine Witherspoon, a fellow driver, about the students he usually transports. "But we'll be back to work. I really think he'll come to his senses."
Witherspoon was referring to Ron Baumann, the president of Baumann Bus Company. The company has confirmed it is talking with striking drivers through a federal mediator. For now, there's a stalemate.
"This is not about kids," said William Johnson, PhD, superintendent of Rockville Centre Public Schools. "This should be adults solving adult problem, and when they take action which affects kids, it bothers me very much."
As the head of the school district, Johnson now has to figure out how to ensure students can get to class the rest of the week. Because Tuesday is Election Day, most of the schools that Baumann serves will be closed.
Wednesday will see many of the schools opening earlier and staying open later for drop-off and pickup in an effort to work with parents' schedules. However, some parents said, it's not so easy.
"Everyone will be doing the same thing," parent Andrea Wellington said about the routine so far outside of her children's schools. Because other parents will be "picking up their kids," she said, "there'll be no parking."
"I had to leave early from work to come pick up the kids," said another parent, Dellis Bodden, as she waited to pick up her two children at Francis F. Wilson Elementary in Rockville Centre.
"Usually, the problem is when everybody is picking up," Bodden added. "It gets crowded."
She also echoed what other parents told PIX11 News. She wants to see her children's bus drivers, bus matrons and mechanics get a fair contract. At the same time, she wants the process to happen with as little disruption to her family's life as possible.
"They do, you know, work hard," Bodden said about the workers. "They should get paid fair. I hope everyone ends up happy."
Repeated attempts by PIX11 News to get a direct response from Baumann Bus Company were unsuccessful.
According to union leaders, during past labor disputes involving school busing, bus companies have been fined up to $1,000 per day, per bus, for missed pickups and deliveries. The possibility of this dispute costing the bus company significant fines, as well as costing workers lost wages, is quite real.
In the meantime, one of the affected school districts, Rockville Centre, has indicated to PIX11 News that it has arranged transportation with other, unionized companies to get many of its students transported to school on Wednesday, and, probably, beyond.
The two sides are slated to meet again, with a federal mediator, on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m.
If they don’t reach an agreement then, they’re scheduled to convene again on Friday. There’s not another negotiation scheduled again after that until Nov. 28.