Brooklyn Daily Eagle
More than 8,000 yellow bus drivers from Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union will walk off the job on Wednesday, union officials said Monday afternoon.
The strike will affect more than 152,000 New York City school students, 54,000 of whom have disabilities and require special transportation services.
The union said it's striking because the city’s new contract does not include job guarantees for the most experienced drivers of disabled/special-needs children.
The city, however, claims that its hands are tied because a court ruling against "employee protection provisions" in a previous case also applies to the current dispute.
“The impending strike has been a manufactured crisis from the beginning,” said New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez in a statement. “This is a completely avoidable situation that the City could solve in an instant if it only had the willingness to do so. It is unconscionable that City Hall is putting our children’s safety at risk by removing contract language that has been in place for thirty years, and that the City has advocated for as recently as 2011.”
“Though the City cannot legally do what the bus drivers’ union wants, they are threatening a strike that would impact our students and families," Chancellor Walcott said on Sunday.
Chancellor Walcott said the city would provide MetroCards at schools and reimbursements for students who must drive or use a car service.
Parents of children in kindergarten, first and second grade may also get MetroCards for themselves so they can accompany their kids on the subway. But parents of children in the third grade and higher would not be reimbursed for accompanying their kids.
Parents who drive their children to school will be reimbursed at a rate of 55 cents per mile, Walcott said. Parents who use a taxi or car service will be reimbursed after they fill out reimbursement forms that include a receipt.
Other measures include adding extra transit officers, school safety officers and crossing guards to help manage the anticipated increase in the number of students using public transportation and walking to school.
The Chancellor said the Taxi and Limousine Commission would issue an alert to its drivers to have the “maximum number” of cars available.
Last month, the DOE released the first competitive bids for drivers of special-needs children in more than 30 years. The bids cover contracts for the 22,500 students who require special transportation.
While the city says it is trying to rein in transportation costs, many parents of disabled children fear that inexperienced drivers would add even more disruption to their children's commute. Hundreds of parents and drivers gathered at City Hall Park a week ago to demonstrate support for the current drivers, as reported by DNAinfo. More than 1,130 parents signed a petition online supporting the bus drivers.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio also backed the drivers, saying in a release, “The City needs to stop stonewalling on safety and recognize what every parent knows: experience matters."
Chancellor Walcott, in a letter to parents, said that "the same safety provisions that are in place today" would apply to the new contracts. These provisions include completing an initial 5-hour course and a 2-hour yearly refresher course, a clean license and letters of reference.
Check for strike updates at www.schools.nyc.gov and 311.