Transit- Striking School Bus Drivers Criticize New York City Over Impasse – NYTimes.com

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

Jan. 31, 2013

The union representing striking New York City school bus drivers lashed out at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration on Wednesday for continuing to refuse to take any role in negotiating an end to the walkout, which has now stretched on for two weeks.

The head of the union, Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said the city this week had rejected the union’s offer to suspend the strike on the condition that the city delay the solicitation of new bids for school bus routes and join talks with a mediator.

“I am extremely disheartened that Mayor Bloomberg continues to abdicate his responsibilities to the city of New York,” said Michael Cordiello, the union president, during a news conference at the Manhattan headquarters of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. “The mayor has just as much of a responsibility to end this strike and get our city’s safest and most experienced drivers back on the road as anyone else.”

Mr. Cordiello and Lawrence J. Hanley, the president of the international arm of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said the union wanted an opportunity to present its case on the costs of school bus operations in New York City, which have risen to $1.1 billion annually, from $100 million in 1979. And the union leaders pointed out how prior mayoral administrations had taken part in talks with the union, including in 1979, during a strike that lasted three months.

The city is in the process of ending some seniority-based job guarantees as part of its request for competitive bids for 1,100 routes transporting special education students; the current contracts expire in June. The contract requirements were released in December, the first step in a long and complicated process that city officials say cannot now be suspended.

“Postponing the bids would guarantee that the same billion-dollar contracts we have now stay in place next year,” Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bloomberg, said in a statement. “The union is irresponsibly holding our students and city hostage over issues that can only be resolved by negotiating directly with the bus companies.”

Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, said the city should accept the union’s offer.

“This would, at least temporarily, end the strike and get much needed drivers back to work transporting students safely to and from school,” she said in a statement. “As I have said, the best way to show parents and schoolchildren real commitment is for all parties to get back to the negotiating table and engage in a dialogue until a deal is agreed upon that ends this strike.”

As a practical matter, the drivers’ walkout is aimed at the private companies that operate school bus routes under contract with the city. It was set off, however, by what the Bloomberg administration said was a cost-saving decision to solicit competitive bids.

The union wants job protections for its current members, but the city, citing a Court of Appeals ruling prohibiting job-security requirements for prekindergarten bus routes, has argued that it is legally prevented from insisting that bidders provide the protections.

On Monday, representatives of many of the bus companies that provide transportation to students in the city met with union leaders at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence, for negotiations on the strike. Though the meeting was instigated by Mr. Bloomberg, no one from City Hall attended because the city’s position is that it is not a direct party to the talks.

Milton Mollen, the mediator who oversaw the meeting, said Tuesday that he would not discuss whether he thought the city should be represented at the table.

“I am not going to comment on what I think,” Mr. Mollen said. “I am still hopeful that we can do something positive.”

The last time the city wanted to seek competitive bids for the bus routes, in 1979, the drivers struck. Mr. Mollen was a judge then, and he brokered a settlement. The arrangement, in place for three decades, requires winning bidders to hire from a master list of senior drivers who are laid off when their employers lose city contracts.

But on Tuesday, he said every labor dispute had “its own distinct qualities.” He noted that in 1979, it was the city’s Board of Education, which no longer exists, that acted as an independent agency in the matter.

Asked if there might be a middle ground to forge an agreement to end the strike, like requiring any winning bidder to pay bus drivers some form of minimum base pay as set by the industry, and hiring drivers with a certain amount of experience, Mr. Mollen said, “I cannot discuss specifics except that there are numerous ways that the problem can be dealt with, but both sides have to be willing to do so.”

 

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