New York — More than 8,000 school bus drivers who transport 152,000 pupils in this city every day, many of them children with special needs, were forced to go on strike Jan. 16 to protect not only their jobs but also the safety of the children they serve.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Wall Street mogul who owns Bloomberg News, left the drivers no choice when he and his Board of Education head, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, refused to negotiate further with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 over the issue of seniority and job security.
The New York State AFL-CIO, in a statement supporting the bus drivers, says that “the union’s hand has been forced by Mayor Bloomberg, who requested bids for contracts without critical safeguards that help ensure our children’s safety. For the first time in 30 years, the mayor has removed a requirement that keeps the most qualified, experienced, and skilled drivers on the job.”
Other information about pickets is available at the New York AFL-CIO’s site, as well as a petition at nysaflcio.org/safety1st.
This is a struggle against austerity, as well. The city is trying to save money by giving out contracts to the lowest bidder, without requiring that drivers with experience and skill handling small children, including those with disabilities, be kept on the job. It’s a disgrace that in the same city where Wall Street funnels trillions of dollars into the pockets of the superrich, the administration claims it can’t find the money to get children safely to school.
Since this struggle started, the mayor and school board head have tried to turn parents against the bus drivers’ union. But many parents are expressing their support for the drivers.
One organization that has been wrestling with the school board over its complicated bus routes and schedules that have caused children to spend unnecessary hours en route is Parents to Improve School Transportation.
On the first day of the strike, PIST sent out the following release:
“Parents, families and New York City school children have come forward to voice their support for the striking school bus drivers and matrons.
“‘As the parents and guardians of NYC school children, we support the school bus union members who, to protect their careers, have been forced to strike by the mayor and the DOE,’ said Sara Catalinotto of Parents to Improve School Transportation.
“Referring to the city’s alternative transportation proposal, grandparent Margaret DePaula added, ‘Many of us are shocked that our children and grandchildren as young as 8 years old have come home with MetroCards in hand.’
“‘The mayor would send children onto trains and buses with no guides, no seat belts, and none of the assistance they have come to expect from their school bus drivers and attendants,’ DePaula continued. ‘Everyone knows that most subway stations and taxis are not wheelchair-accessible. Yet Mr. Bloomberg says he cares more about the children than the workers do.’
“Catalinotto continued, ‘We strongly doubt the city’s claim that it is dropping the Employee Protection Provision to raise money for classrooms. The EPP is a seniority list, ensuring that the most experienced drivers and matrons will be employed first to transport our children — many of whom are students with disabilities. Including the EPP in contracts does not cost the city any extra!’
“Johnnie Stevens, father of a bus student, added, ‘It is also not true that a court ruling has made the EPP illegal. The ruling the city keeps referring to applies only to pre-kindergarten companies and involved contracts that had never before included the EPP. The contracts the city is trying to change, on the other hand, have included the EPP for 47 years.’
“Stevens continued, ‘We agree with union leaders who have compared the attack on ATU 1181 with the anti-union campaigns in Ohio and Michigan. Having bought himself a third term in office, the mayor has no business standing in the way of job security of drivers — and matrons, mostly women of color — who transport our children. It is he and the DOE who are hurting our children by refusing to negotiate fairly with the school bus drivers.’
“Sharlene Figueroa, mother of three children who ride mini-wagons, concluded, ‘Corner-cutting by the DOE under mayoral control has already lowered busing standards. It’s not an accident that we are PIST. Strike or no strike, we will continue to organize for a School Bus Bill of Rights to eliminate overcrowded, long routes that are forced on our children (and their bus crews) every September. Good busing is an aspect of our children’s educational civil rights.’”