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School Bus Drivers Gearing Up for Planned Strike

By Jill Colvin | January 15, 2013 6:20pm

NEW YORK CITY — Thousands of school bus drivers were preparing to report to picket lines Wednesday morning, as both sides continued to dig in their heels hours before a threatened strike that would leave 150,000 students without rides.

A day after a press conference announcing their plans, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 president Michael Cordiello said it members still intend to strike, beginning at 6 a.m.

“The administration has still made no attempt to come to the table,” Cordiello told reporters during an afternoon conference call.

“We tried every option to avoid a strike, but our members feel their back is to the wall."

Instead of boarding buses, the drivers and matrons represented by the union intend to gather at bus depots to picket what they argue is an attempt by the Bloomberg administration to strip employee protections they say ensure experienced drivers don't get pushed out.

The strike, which has been threatened for weeks, stems from the Department of Education's decision to bid out new driver contracts for the first time in 33 years on 1,100 bus routes for children with special needs.

The city's busing costs have spiked from $71 million in 1979 to $1.1 billion today, according to the DOE, which argues the approximately $6,900 per student could be better spent in the classroom.

But the union is furious the new contracts would eliminate guaranteed job protections for their 7,700 existing workers — protections city officials insist they are legally barred from offering, because of a previous court ruling.

The union, however, disagrees, and says it plans to strike until the administration changes its tune.

Leaders have declined to say how long the strike could last, but noted the last strike lasted 14 weeks.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg reacted to Monday's threatened strike with outrage, calling it "irresponsible and misguided."

“With its regrettable decision to strike, the union is abandoning 152,000 students and their families who rely on school bus service each day," he said in a statement, noting that the city is now beginning to put contingency plans in place.

School bus companies have also spoken out against the strike, which they claim isn't fair because drivers work for them — not the city.

The New York City School Bus Contractors Coalition called the ATU strike "an unlawful secondary strike" and said Monday it would unfair labor practice charges.

The impending strike has left parents across the city scrambling to figure out how to get their children to school.

Already, many have been keeping their kids home from school this week for fear of a mid-day strike, said Sarah Valeri, an art therapist at the Jewish Guild for the Blind where she works with special education students who are transported by DOE buses.

Administrators there are expecting no more than ten kids to attend classes tomorrow out of a class of 50, she said.

"I know it's going to be a huge difficulty for parents," she said.

Carin van der Donk, a parent and founder of Common Sense Busing, said she and others parents had been communicating via a giant email chain, trying to work out a carpooling plan.

“It is going be intense," she said. "There’s a lot of people trying to figure out if they can get a couple hours off from work in the morning."

Click here to find out how to get your family to school during the strike.