By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Well over a thousand striking school bus drivers, matrons and their supporters poured into Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn Heights on Sunday afternoon to rally and march over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall.
Drivers from Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union walked off the job on January 16 because the city’s new contract does not include job guarantees for the most experienced drivers of disabled/special-needs children.
The city says it is trying to rein in transportation costs.
The drivers "are being given a bum rap by [Mayor] Bloomberg," said Martin Haber, UFT union member and chapter leader at John Dewey High School, marching in solidarity with the bus drivers. "Bus drivers simply want their seniority protected. As a native New Yorker, I think it's a disgrace. These people are trying to make thirty thousand a year."
Rick, a school bus driver for 35 years, said the contracts would "put 8,000 people on welfare and food stamps.
"The kids, they get used to you. They have problems, you're a shoulder to lean on," he said.
Morgan Horowitz, adjunct lecturer at Hunter College, said Mayor Bloomberg was "union busting on the back of workers and against the interest of the kids. People spend their whole lives working their way up the pay scale, then that gets destroyed. All they're asking for is preservation, not a pay raise or benefits. The idea of a greedy union is totally false."
The Mayor has rejected a union offer for a 60 -90 day "cooling off" period.
On Monday, bus companies will submit 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.
Many parents of disabled children fear that inexperienced and part-time drivers would not be able to handle their children's health issues.
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.