LI Bus strike is (almost) over, normal bus service resumes

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FREEPORT, NY — After nearly two weeks without school bus service, tens of thousands of local families can now count on having their buses back. It's the result of a labor dispute coming to an end, but the union representing the school bus drivers, and the bus company they struck against, have different views of the agreement that was tentatively reached.

Still, bus service should return to normal for the school day on Friday.

In fact, even on Thursday, many more buses at the Baumann Bus Company were in operation than there had been since early last week. The dearth of buses had sent the families of the 20,000  affected students scrambling for alternatives.

"When you go to pick him up," said Griselda Dubois, a parent in Freeport, said about her elementary school child, "it's always the same way. People's bad humor comes out," Dubois continued.  "They start cursing at you, they want you to move out of the way."

Another parent, Peddy Ligonde, described the last nine school days without school bus service as "pretty difficult."

"I've been taking him in to class in the morning," he said, pointing to his son, a seventh grader at John W. Dodd Middle School in Freeport.  Ligonde said that he was pleased with the outcome of the negotiations. "I'm glad that [the union] got what they wanted," he told PIX11 News.  "So that's very important."

Specifically, according to TWU Local 252, the union representing school bus drivers and matrons, they got a new, three-year contract that features:
- a two percent wage increase each year
- guaranteed weeks of pay
- a paid sick day
- two paid snow days
- a 401K increase
- an increase in pay for driving charter buses

The strike affected families of students in Freeport, Baldwin, Hicksville, Rockville Centre and parts of Queens and Brooklyn.

Rockville Centre's school system ended its use of Baumann Company buses because of the strike. It chose instead to make a transportation agreement with one of Baumann's competitors, Guardian Bus Company, which has a contract with its drivers that the drivers' union calls more competitive.

Still, the union said that the contract it entered into with Baumann is acceptable.

Workers "were fighting for definite improvements that they needed to come up to parity with other companies," said Debra Hagen, president of Union Local 252.  "They’re not quite there yet, but it's enough of an improvement that we're hopeful that in future contracts they’ll be able to attain what we have in other contracts."

By contrast, the Baumann Bus Company itself released a statement accusing the union of not negotiating reliably throughout the labor dispute.

"The Union’s press release stated it 'sought a speedy resolution.' It did not," Baumann said in its statement, released to PIX11 News Thursday afternoon. "The fact is," the statement went on to say, "the contract was set to expire June 30, 2017.  Baumann requested bargaining dates on April 27, 2017, the Union responded on May 8, 2017 with dates of May 25, June 13, and June 19. Negotiation dates were set for June 13 and June 19. On June 9, 2017, the Union cancelled negotiations on June 13 stating they had other negotiations to attend.  The Union stated they did not have dates before June 13 to make up for that date.  On June 19, the Union arrived for negotiations but stayed only 51 minutes again due to the Union’s need to attend negotiations for a different company. This occurred throughout bargaining.  The Union always had other priorities."

The statement goes on to say that in the 13 subsequent meetings between the two sides, the company "has continuously updated the proposal indicating the tentative agreements between the parties, of which there have been many.  The Union has only made one written proposal ..."

The statement further says, "It is the Union’s complete lack of concern for its membership and the public that caused this strike."

The union's members will vote on the new contract proposal on Friday. If it’s approved, as expected, it will go into effect at the end of the month.

Despite the ongoing tension between the union and the Baumann Family, which owns the bus company, on-time school bus pickups and drop offs are expected, beginning Friday morning.