As promised, around 6 a.m. this morning more than 8,000 school bus drivers in Local 1181 of the Amalgated Transit Union went on strike, leaving some 152,000 students, many with special needs, without an easy way to get to school. The city is understandably taking a very hard line on the first school bus strike since the 14-week strike in 1979, but not every parent is as upset.
"It's an inconvenience but I support the strike," one parent told the AP after taking his 5-year-old daughter to school in Manhattan via cab. And on Staten Island reporters found similar feelings, with parents taking time to praise how educators had prepared for the onslaught of extra traffic. "It was well organized and their were no delays. From a mother's point of view, they did a fantastic job, especially on a rainy morning," one parent said.
At the same time, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has been making the TV rounds this morning to make sure that everyone gets that this is "going to be chaotic. I think the first several days there's going to be a lot of drama and trauma to our parents." And yet? The city isn't planning on asking the courts to intervene to stop the strike—yet.
"I don't think it's time yet to do that," Mayor Bloomberg said this morning. "No. 1, it's not clear that all of the unions are striking. We'll find out later this morning. It's not clear this union won't come to its senses and say I just don't want to hurt the kids—and this is not something that's going to help them. They're going to lose out on their pay from now until June."
The city and the bus drivers are in the middle of a bitter battle over job protections, which the AP sums up nicely:
The city doesn't directly hire the bus drivers and matrons, who work for private companies that have city contracts. The workers make an average of about $35,000 a year, with a driver starting at $14 an hour and potentially making as much as $29 an hour over time, according to union President Michael Cordiello.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the city must seek competitive bids to save money. The union sought job protections for current drivers in the new contracts. The city said that the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, has barred it from including such provisions because of competitive bidding laws; the union said that's not so.
And so here we are. "We’ve tried every option to avoid a strike, but our members feel that their back is to a wall and they must take a stand on this issue," Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello yesterday.
Meanwhile, the battle over public opinion in this one is just getting going. Yesterday Amalgamated released the following ad, filled with images of crashed school buses, which is already airing on local TV: