Drivers get back to busing after strike


Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union announced Feb. 15 that after the mid-winter public school recess, its roughly 8,800 drivers and matrons would end its 22-day strike and return to their buses on Wednesday, Feb. 20. 

That means that the 152,000 children who rely on bus service once again have a ride to school. 

Although Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott warned families that there may be service delays and disruptions as bus companies work out the logistics, Francis Bisono and other parents welcomed the news.

Ms. Bisono said it took weeks for her first-grade son, who is on the Autism spectrum, to adjust to walking to Multiple Intelligence School, PS/MS 37. 

She said her son stopped crying on his way to school about two weeks ago, but that walking in the cold has triggered his asthma.

“He may not be ready on Wednesday. He’s not sleeping well; he’s coughing in the middle of the night,” Ms. Bisono said. “But I still feel really happy.”

Local 1181 voted to break the strike a day after the five Democratic mayoral candidates sent a letter to the union pledging to advocate for Local 1181 if its members returned to work. The candidates vowed that, if elected, they would support the union in its fight to keep an employee protection provision in future bids. 

The employee protection provision guarantees that drivers and matrons are hired according to seniority regardless of which companies are awarded contracts. 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that including such a clause in bids opened this winter for 1,100 special education routes would have violated a court ruling and would force the city to continue spending $1.1 billion annually.

The union maintained that the clause would not have violated the law and had its members walk off the job on Jan. 16, insisting that the seniority provision was necessary to ensure that children were left in the care of experienced and capable staff.

On Feb. 12, dozens of companies bid on the 1,100 routes, which will be formally awarded this spring. 

At the start of the strike, school attendance suffered. District 75 schools for children with special needs reported that fewer than half of students were present on the first day of the strike. 

The city prioritized placing new drivers on routes that serve children with special needs. By Feb. 15, District 75 reported that 75.1 percent of its students were back in class. 

Although a bus began picking up Maria Remigio’s sixth-grade daughter last week, Ms. Remigio said she was still relieved to hear the strike was over. 

She said her husband wasn’t able to adjust his work schedule to help bring his daughter to PS/MS 37 and that she missed four days of class as a result. 

Ms. Remigio said she was confident that politicians, having seen how disruptive the strike was, would work to prevent future stalemates. 

“It’s a stable situation now,” she said. “They haven’t had a strike in what, 35 years? So they mean business. I’m pretty sure they will work on this before that year is up.”

Mr. Bloomberg said allowing companies to vie for the contracts for the first time in more than 30 years would help the DOE save money and increase school budgets.

Additional savings could also come from the Department of Education’s plan to consolidate special education and general education routes in 2015. 

Rachel and Alfred Nuñez, however, fear that some of the city’s savings will come from taking them off the city payroll. 

Ms. Nuñez said she and her husband have worked up to an hourly wage of $29 over the course of 13 and 14 years. They now fear they may lose their jobs or be offered hourly wages as low as $7.25 in future bus bids.

“It’s very disheartening because I love my job. I’m so happy and excited to go back to work,” Ms. Nuñez said. “But I’m not sure what’s going to happen with my contract in September.”