New York City school bus strike suspended

February 16, 2013 7:52:29 AM PST
The union for striking New York City school bus drivers has decided to suspend the five week long walkout.

Drivers hung up their picket signs after a meeting Friday night and are heading back to work.

Leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union said service would resume Wednesday, when classes resume following mid-winter recess.

"It was very stressful not having any medical," said Liliana Parker, a driver's wife.

The past five weeks have been tough on the Parker family.

They've had no pay and no medical benefits, but their monthly bills kept on coming.

Douglas Parker is ready to get back to work driving a school bus as his wife and children depend on him.

"It's great to be back. Can't wait to be with the kids," Parker said.

The school bus strike was the first in the city since 1979. About 5,000 of the city's 7,700 routes were affected.

Just 152,000 of New York City's 1.1 million public schoolchildren ride yellow school buses, but the cost of busing students has risen from $100 million in 1979 to $1.1 billion today.

Thursday Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged union leaders to end the strike and said the city would not be held hostage.

Then Friday, a group of mayoral candidates stepped into the labor dispute.

Politicians including Bill DiBlasio told Local 1181 members the driver seniority and employee protections debate will be discussed later, possibly after the election, and with that the union suspended the strike.

"Too many of our kids are suffering, especially our special ed kids. So, it's time for the drivers to come back. We're going to work with them to get a fair resolution, but we have to get back to work now," DiBlasio said.

Both the mayor and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott say they're happy to have this much needed service restored.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a statement saying:

"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. Yesterday, I urged the union leaders to end the strike and made clear that the City would not be held hostage. Tonight, they agreed and will restore bus services on Wednesday when schools reopen. I want to thank the families, teachers, schools and Department of Education staff who faced a challenging four weeks, as well as the bus employees who helped keep some of the routes operational throughout the strike. We appreciate the hard work our bus drivers and matrons do and we welcome them back to the job. In the city's entire history, the special interests have never had less power than they do today, and the end of this strike reflects the fact that when we say we put children first, we mean it."

Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott also released a statement Friday night:

"With the union's agreement to end the unnecessary strike, their members can return to work and restore the services our students depend on. I want to extend my thanks to the parents and families, the school staff and my team at the Department of Education who worked to get our children to class, and especially to the bus drivers and matrons who helped keep some bus routes in service. We expect full bus service to resume on Wednesday when schools reopen, and will work to notify school officials, parents and guardians throughout the weekend.

"Earlier this week, the City accepted the first bids on school bus contracts in more than 30 years, with the potential to cut costs, transfer the savings to classrooms and secure quality service from certified drivers and matrons for our students. This open, fair and competitive process is what our school system and city deserve and sets an important standard that we will continue to uphold."

Parents say it takes a huge weight off their shoulders.

"Bus strike is over, I'm so happy. I understand about the bus and their needs. But this is a lot. It's tiring. It's a lot," said Shamekwah Polite, a parent.

Earlier this week, the city accepted the first bids on school bus contracts in more than 30 years, saying the move could save tens of millions of dollars.

It would take effect for two years so the union is hoping a new administration will squash that plan.

The union also released a statement saying: "As Local 1181 has always said, our top priority is the safe transport to and from school of our City's children. With that in mind, our Executive Board voted earlier this afternoon to suspend the five week strike, and return to work on Wednesday, February 20th.

"Though our strike has been suspended, the principles that we fight for remain pressing issues that the City will have to address. The fact is, a safe workforce is an experienced workforce and the Employee Protection Provisions currently included in the City's busing contracts protect our most experienced drivers, matrons, and mechanics ? and have created one of the safest workforces in the entire country.

"We continue to be dismayed by the Bloomberg Administration, which offered no assistance in bringing this strike to a close and furthermore, continued to mislead the public that the drivers, who make an average of $35,000/year and the matrons who make an at most $28,000/year, are somehow the driving force behind rising school bus transportation costs.

"In January when Mayor Bloomberg is gone, we are comfortable that his entire scheme will be rejected. We are grateful that so many elected leaders in this city are choosing the facts as a path to a conclusion, rather than a conclusion as a path to the facts."

School attendance had increased since the strike began, but special needs students and striking drivers were feeling the weight of the strike.

With a school holiday Monday and Tuesday, buses will roll again on Wednesday.

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