In January of 2013, an estimated 150,000 New York City public school students may not have a way to get to and from school each day. For the second year in a row, New York City’s largest school bus drivers union and City Hall are poised for a potential showdown, to take place just after the holidays.
Concerned about job protection, the school bus drivers, represented by Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, say that their most experienced members may be out of work when the transportation vendors who employ them lose their city contracts. The Bloomberg administration has said the way things look now, a “strong possibility” of a citywide strike exists.
On Friday, December 21, New York City Mayor Bloomberg stood with senior city officials at a news conference to lay out contingency plans, as he did last year. “In a year when our students have already missed a week or more of school because of Hurricane Sandy, striking against our school children, we think, would be totally irresponsible,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “Going through with a strike now,” he added, “would be unfair to our kids and absolutely unacceptable.”
At this juncture, it is not clear whether the bus drivers who work for the companies that serve the city will stage a strike, since not all of them are unionized. Local 1181 represents 9,000 affected members.
The issue of job protections was first raised 32 years ago, when, in 1979, they were initially inserted into transportation contracts after the last bus strike, which lasted 13 weeks. It arose anew in 2011, after the city issued a request for bids for the transportation of 14,000 preschool students with special needs. Michael Cordiello, the president of Local 1181, then said a strike was probable. But days later, he said that contract negotiations would be reopened and no strike took place.
Once again, the city put out another set of bids. This time around they were seeking transportation of 22,500 special needs children in kindergarten through 12th grade who require special transportation. The bundle of contracts at stake cover 1,100 bus routes, or about one-sixth of the Department of Education’s total routes, and will expire on June 30.
What has again ignited the union’s fury, according to the city, is that the new round of bids, like the old ones, do not require new companies picked for the job to hire, by order of seniority and at the same rate of pay, bus drivers and other workers from the companies that lost the contracts. In a ruling last year, the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals barred the city from including employee protection polices in transportation contracts, Mayor Bloomberg said.
Taking sides with 23 nonunion transportation companies that had sued the Education Department, the Court of Appeals, in its June 2011 ruling threw out such protection provisions as a violation of the state’s competitive bidding laws.
However, Richard N. Gilberg, a lawyer for the bus drivers’ union, wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to the city’s corporation counsel that the court cited the Education Department’s failure to disprove the anticompetitive features of those job protections and did not demonstrate how they reduced costs or prevented service disruptions. He also wrote that the court ruling applied only to the 2011 bid, not general or special education, and that the city’s interpretation of the court ruling was “plainly incorrect.”
In a statement the union said it was “prepared to take any action necessary to protect the safety and security of New York City school children.”