Drivers and attendants with two of the city's largest school bus companies voted 85 percent in favor to authorize a strike on Wednesday night. According to the drivers, who are represented by Teamsters Local 553, management has proposed slashing five paid holidays and putting an unfair percentage of their hourly wages towards healthcare.
The drivers cover 600 elementary school and special education bus routes in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, according to the Teamsters. The Daily News reports that as many as 10,000 students could be impacted. The strike could launch as soon as next Tuesday.
"These are the workers that we entrust with the safety of our children, but starting wages for school bus attendants aren't much higher than minimum wage,” said Demos Demopoulos, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 553. “To increase the healthcare costs for these workers, many of whom are single mothers, is patently unfair."
Lisa Cilone, 50, is a bus driver in Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge, and a mother of two. "We really don't want to have to strike, but doing this gives the leadership of our union leverage to try to come to an agreement so that we don't have to disrupt the children and the parents," she told us Thursday. "I'm a parent myself, I know what it's like to get a kid up to go to school."
Cilone lives in Gravesend, and gets up at 4:30 each weekday morning in order to pick up her bus at the base in Red Hook at 5:30. The first stop on her morning route is at 6:30 a.m. A veteran of 20 years, she's at the higher end of the pay scale, making $23 per hour. "There are people that just made it to $17.50," she said. "There are attendants that only make $10 per hour. I don't know how people expect you to live off of that."
It wasn't immediately clear how much management has proposed deducting from workers' paychecks for healthcare.
Teamsters said that next Tuesday marks the expiration of the drivers' second contract extension. The contract, which first expired back in June, covers workers with Jofaz Transportation and Y&M Transit.
Jofaz could not immediately be reached; Y&M declined comment.
According to the Department of Education, the city has backup plans ready if the strike moves forward. "We are disappointed with this outcome and working to swiftly address concerns of students, families and educators," said DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye in a statement. “We have contingency plans in place —either a MetroCard for students and families or alternate bus service—to ensure transportation options for students."