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Bus companies bid for routes amid drivers’ strike

School bus drivers, escorts and supporters picket in front of a depot on Metropolitan Avenue in Ridgewood during the first day of the strike last month.
TimesLedger Newspapers

The city Department of Education started reviewing bids from various bus companies for the 1,100 routes that initially went out to bid in December in the latest chapter of the now month-long union bus drivers’ strike.

According to a DOE spokesman, the city is looking at bids from 67 different bus companies, some of which already operate various bus routes throughout the city, with hopes of saving potentially millions of dollars from the current cost of roughly $6,900 per student. The savings, he said, would come from the city’s decision not to include job guarantees for veteran drivers, which prompted the strike Jan. 16.

Bus drivers with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 called the strike last month amid a dispute with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the DOE over whether or not jobs guarantees for senior workers in the form of an Employee Protection Provision could be included in new contracts.

But city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the union’s demands were impossible to meet after a 2011 state Court of Appeals ruling blocked job protections specifically for pre-kindergarten contracts.

“For over 30 years, the Employee Protection Provision has created one of the safest and most experienced work forces in the country, without contributing to the rising costs of busing throughout New York City,” the union said in a statement. “Neither the city nor bus companies have ever shown that the EPP adds costs, and as recent as last Friday, Chancellor Walcott, when pressed by the City Council, could not cite any examples that proves it is a cost-driver.”

The strike left more than 150,000 city students without rides to school — 54,000 of whom have disabilities and require special transportation arrangements, the DOE said.

“The mayor has the power to put our drivers and matrons back to work,” said Michael Cordiello, president of ATU Local 1181. “All we ask is that he suspend the bids and is willing to discuss ways to reduce costs within the school bus transportation industry, which the union has shown has nothing to do with keeping the most experienced school bus crews on the road.”

Earlier this month, the National Labor Relations Board ruled the strike was legal, validating the work stoppage and putting more pressure on the city to continue negotiating.

“The NLRB decision not only supports the legality of the strike, but validates 1181’s longstanding position that the New York City Department of Education, in addition to the bus companies, is a primary employer associated with this work stoppage,” Cordiello said. “I hope that Mayor Bloomberg recognizes the impact of the decision and decides to come to the table with the union and bus companies to resolve the strike.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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