Parents waved as a yellow bus departed from the corner of West 251st Street and Post Road Tuesday morning, watching a driver escort their children to Robert J. Christen School, PS 81, for what many worried would be the last time for days to come.
On Monday, the largest yellow bus driver union announced its 8,800 members would go on strike for the first time since 1979, beginning 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 said it initiated the strike because the city refuses to honor bus drivers’ seniority in new contracts for routes that carry 22,500 students with disabilities to class.
Though the 1,100 routes only transport 22,500 students, the union said all of its drivers and matrons will walk off the job, which will leave 152,000 students to find their own way to school.
Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello said the city would jeopardize the safety of children with special transportation needs by placing them in the hands of inexperienced drivers unless the seniority clause, or employee protection provision, is included in new contracts.
“The employee protection provision is directly linked to the safety and security of our children by ensuring the city’s most qualified, skilled and experienced school bus crews remain on the job …” Mr. Cordiello said.
That view was shared by Parents to Improve School Transportation co-founder Sara Catalinotto, who was concerned that less empowered employees would be less likely to speak up about problems on their routes. She also said the strike would disproportionately affect disabled children, who often travel farther and are less mobile than their general education peers.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused the union of using safety as a pretense but of protecting its ability to benefit from working arrangements that force the city to pay more to bus children to school than any school system in America.