The City Council urged Mayor Bloomberg to postpone the negotiations of school bus driver contracts yesterday in a letter that called for “restoring much needed normalcy to the thousands of students and families affected by the strike.” The stakes get higher for workers today as health insurance for the striking members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1181 expires.
44 members of the 50-person council signed off on the letter, which encouraged the mayor to accept a “cooling off” period proposed by retired Justice Milton Mollen, which would allow drivers to return to their routes while the union renegotiates its contract with the city. The council members pointed to the impact on school attendance as reason enough to stop the strike.
“Unnecessarily prolonging this strike puts the education of thousands of students, especially special needs students, at risk,” the council wrote. It’s not just a claim intended to tug the heartstrings — the Department of Education reported that attendance has dropped since the strike began. Regular schools had a 89.4 percent attendance rate yesterday, while District 75, which serves special needs and disabled students, was at 70.6 percent.
However, Local 1181 says they are not the ones to blame for the impasse on the $1.1 billion bus budget — City Hall is. During a press conference yesterday, Larry Hanley, president of ATU International, called out the mayor, stating, “Bloomberg continues to mislead the public on the real costs of student busing, blaming it on the backs of the hard-working, meagerly-paid workers of Local 1181.” Drivers earn $40,000 to $45,000 yearly, while matrons (who monitor the students during their rides) earn up to $28,000.
Hanley also shed light on how students have been getting to school without the buses, and the costs of these new transportation fixes: “With police protection that they put out there and all the MetroCards that they’re paying for, the taxi rides they’re paying for, this is not about the city saving money, this is about an ideology. This is a war on working people.”
Local 1181 has indicated that its members would return to work during the proposed “cooling off” period, but City Hall is having none of it. Lauren Passalacqua, a spokesperson for City Hall, said, “These contracts haven’t faced a fair, open, and competitive bid in 33 years, and delaying that process will only guarantee that the current billion-dollar contracts remain in place.”
One mother affected by the strike wrote an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg about her struggles to transport her autistic son from their home in the Bronx to his special education school in Westchester. She writes, “As I look to the days ahead, I find myself asking: Do I send my son to school or do I go to work? This shouldn’t be the kind of question any New York City parent has to ask.” You can read her entire heart-wrenching open letter to Mayor Bloomberg on her blog.