NYC School Bus Drivers Union Says It’s Suspending Strike

The union representing New York City school bus drivers said it will suspend its strike after five weeks and return to work Feb. 20.

The decision late yesterday came after five Democratic mayoral candidates pledged to consider job guarantees in future contracts. The union’s leadership announced its intentions to its membership in a telephone conference.

“Though our strike has been suspended, the principles that we fight for remain pressing issues that the city will have to address,” Michael Cordiello, president of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said in a statement. “A safe workforce is an experienced workforce.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 71, refused to negotiate with the union, saying the largest U.S school system needed to reduce its busing costs, which have skyrocketed to $1.1 billion a year --an average of $6,900 per child -- from $100 million in 1979. Bloomberg also said court decisions prohibited the city from negotiating job security in contracts with private bus companies, which union leaders disputed.

The city has spent less offering free MetroCards to pay for buses and subways, and to reimburse parents for taxi and car services, than it would had the buses been running, Bloomberg said yesterday during his weekly appearance on WOR radio. The city intends to announce its choices of new bus companies from about 65 bidders in the next two weeks, he said.

“For decades, the monopolistic bus contract process benefited the bus companies and unions at the expense of the city’s taxpayers and students -- but no longer,” Bloomberg said in a statement yesterday. “The end of this strike reflects the fact that when we say we put children first, we mean it.”

Candidates Request

The union’s executive board voted to suspend the strike a day after City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio, Comptroller John Liu, former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, and former City Councilman Sal Albanese sent a letter to Larry Hanley, the ATU’s international president, calling on the union to end the walk-out.

They pledged that if elected they would ensure that the union’s concerns “are protected within the bidding process, while at the same time are fiscally responsible.”

The candidates “understand the value of experienced drivers and matrons to the safety of our kids,” Hanley said in a statement.

“In January when Mayor Bloomberg is gone, we are comfortable that his entire scheme will be rejected,” Cordiello said.

Bloomberg leaves office Dec. 31. The three-term mayor is barred by law from seeking a fourth four-year term.

Job Guarantees

The union walked out Jan. 16, forcing tens of thousands of the city’s 1.35 million public and parochial students to find alternate ways to get to class. Drivers, matrons who escort special-needs students and mechanics said safety and fairness required the city to guarantee jobs based upon seniority in any new bus-service contracts.

About 39 percent, or 3,000, of the city’s 7,700 yellow school bus routes remained covered by operators whose drivers and matrons aren’t represented by Local 1181, the mayor’s office has said. About 152,000 public and private-school students receive bus service.

Drivers earn an average of $35,000 a year and matrons make at most $28,000 a year, Cordiello said.

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg news parent Bloomberg LP.

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