NYC school bus strike beginning Wednesday, union says

A strike by New York City school bus drivers that had been threatened for weeks will be starting Wednesday morning, affecting 152,000 students, the president of the union representing the drivers announced Monday.

Michael Cordiello of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union said more than 8,000 bus drivers and matrons would take part in the strike, brought about by a dispute over job protections in any new bus company contracts for the bus routes. Matrons accompany the children on the bus and make sure they get on and off the bus safely.

Earlier Monday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city had been anticipating the strike.

Flanked by Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and other officials at a news conference, Bloomberg said, "The city is prepared for a strike."

Under the city's strike contingency plans, students would receive free MetroCards for mass transit. Parents or guardians of younger children also would get the cards.

Families of special-needs students would be reimbursed for private transportation.

The city wants to cut transportation costs and has put bus contracts with private bus companies up for bid. The union is decrying the lack of employee protections, saying current drivers could suddenly lose their jobs once their contracts are up in June.

The mayor said the privately-contracted drivers were demanding job security, or Employee Protection Provisions.

However, such a guarantee is not allowed in contracts between drivers and companies chosen by the city to provide bus services. The state Court of Appeals in 2011 barred the city from including EPP because of competitive bidding laws. Hence, the mayor said, the city cannot accept the union demand for an EPP clause.

Drivers' contracts expire on June 30, and Bloomberg said the city must "go ahead" in seeking competitive bids that would save money.

Cordiello refuted the idea that the EPP was not allowed. He said the 2011 Court of Appeals ruling was based on the fact that the city at the time did not offer the judges enough evidence to support its contention that the EPP job-security clause does not push up costs.

The union president also challenged the mayor's assertion that both sides in the labor dispute had been talking "all along."

Not true, Cordiello said. He said he'd met the mayor for only 20 minutes last week, and the deputy mayor for an hour.

The head of another union, Teamsters Local 854, said its members would not go on strike with the bus drivers because their contracts don't allow it, but they would not cross any picket lines. Local 854 represents drivers, matrons and mechanics, some of whom work alongside members of ATU.

Dan Gatto, president of the local, put the blame on Bloomberg. "For weeks now, City Hall has refused to discuss the job-killing provisions they are insisting on as part of new contracts with bus contractors," he said.

"We urge Mayor Bloomberg and his administration to work with the ATU to resolve this dispute before a job action is required," he said.