NYC School Bus Drivers Hit the Brakes and Go On Strike
For a week now, 8,800 drivers and matrons of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181(ATU) have been on strike, sending New York City parents scrambling to get their children to school.
The city is seeking bids for bus services that don’t include Employee Protection Provisions (EPPs), which drivers and ATU Local 1181 argue are crucial to protecting their job security and livelihood. EPPs allow drivers and matrons to be rehired with the same wages and benefits in case the city changes bus vendors.
"[The city's] job is to get the lower price we can to get the jobs that we need to get done,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, on the reasoning behind the new bid-seeking strategy. The school busing system costs over a billion dollars per year to run, and Bloomberg said the city needs to cut costs.
It’s clear that the system is expensive. At $7,000 per student, per year, New York City pays more per capita for busing than any other school district in nation. Of the city’s 1.1 million students, about 150,000 count on the buses to ferry them to and from school; a third of those are special-needs children.
But the average driver earns about $35,000 per year, and union members argue that their paychecks are not dollars wasted. "This is the reason why the EPP was put back in the day — it was to ensure that when we're behind the wheels, and the matrons, they're professionals—they're well-trained," driver Edwin Beniquez told CNN.
In bustling New York City, supporters describe the drivers’ and matrons' work as a delicate and crucial balancing act: navigating traffic while at the same time tending to the needs of children with intellectual disabilities, children in wheelchairs, children with panic disorders, children who attend school equipped with an oxygen tank.
“I once had a student with autism who would arrive at school crying if any part of his routine had been altered on the bus; it could take him hours to calm down,” Molly Knefel, a Drama teacher to works for an after-school program wrote at Alternet.
“We would not be helped if you threw away the most experienced drivers and matrons,” said Sara Catalinotto, a Manhattan mother of two and activist with Parents to Improve School Transportation.
Both the city and the strikers have vowed not to back down, even if it means months without full bus service. But a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board, expected this week, could lead to an earlier halt if the strike is deemed illegal.
Catalinotto hopes that Bloomberg will relent. “As a parent, you get what you pay for,” she told Campus Progress. “Why throw away folks who not only know how to listen to the vehicle and the traffic, but who also know how to listen to our children?”
Chris Lewis is a reporter at Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @chris_lewis_.