New York City school bus employees and their employers on January 28 resumed talks in an attempt to settle a strike affecting 150,000 New York City students and their families. Michael Cordiello, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, the employees’ union, said that the talks were a step in the right direction but that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg needed to get involved in the talks.
The mayor has refused to do so and has said that the dispute is between the companies and the union.
However, both sides agree that it was a decision by the mayor that sparked the strike and without his involvement a resolution will be difficult if not impossible.
The school bus drivers and matrons, aides who help drivers of special needs children, went on strike on January 16 after Mayor Bloomberg announced in December that school bus companies will no longer be required to comply with Employee Protection Provision when they bid on contracts for school bus routes set to expire in July 2013.
The Employee Protection Provision (EPP), which governs all school bus route contracts in New York City, is a master seniority list that companies must use when hiring drivers and matrons. Without the EPP, companies will be able to hire anyone off the street with little or no experience.
“The point of the Employee Protection Provision is to create an incentive for people to stay in the (school bus transportation) industry, so that you create an experienced workforce that can safely deliver kids to school instead of a low-wage, high-turnover transient workforce,” said Richard Gilberg, Local 1181’s attorney.
Experienced drivers and matrons are especially important for the school bus routes that serve 50,000 special needs children. These workers serve a wide range of children with physical and mental disabilities, many of whom require special care while they are traveling between school and home.
The school bus routes that will come up for bid in July affect 22,500 special needs children.
The mayor contends that he hopes to rein costs by eliminating EPP.
But Gilberg said that the mayor has presented no evidence that EPP increases costs and suggests that the EPP may actually hold down expenses by reducing turnover, which lowers training costs and improves productivity.
“The union doesn’t mind if the mayor wants to put the contracts up for competitive bid,” Gilberg said. “If you can save money by cutting profits of the middlemen–the company owners–God bless. (But) don’t take it out on the backs of people who make $13, $14, $15 an hour carrying kids in wheelchairs.”
Two of those people referred to by Gilberg are Vic and Lucy DiBetetto, who work as a driver and matron respectively. They were interviewed by Denis Hamill of the New York Post.
During her 12 years as a matron, Lucy DiBetetto, who is trained in CPR, has become an adept care giver to children with autism, MS, and other disabilities who ride her bus. For this, she is paid $15 an hour.
Vic, who has driven a bus for special needs children for nine years makes $22 an hour. Together they bring home about $53,000 a year, not a lot to live on in a high-expense city like New York.
“Listen, we’re not asking for some huge raise here,” said Vic to Hamill. “We’re only asking for security for our jobs and pensions. I’m in my 50s. I wanna hold onto my $35,000-a-year job and make sure I have a pension. Does this make us the bad guys Bloomberg’s making us out to be?”
Despite the mayor’s media campaign against the 8,000 strikers, the drivers and matrons have received substantial support from other unions and parents, who appreciate the value that the workers’ experience brings to the job.
Members of TWC Local 100, CWA Local 1180, SEIU Local 32 BJ, and other unions have shown up regularly to walk picket lines with the strikers.
At a press conference called by the United Federation of Teachers, a union spokesperson said that the teachers’ union is standing with the drivers and demanded that Mayor Bloomberg come to the table and negotiate an end to the strike.
At the same press conference, Noah Gottbaum, a parent of a special needs son said that his son’s driver and matron spend two hours a day with his child and that they have proven to be professionals in the services that they provide.
“I can’t tell you how important it is that my child is taken care of by professionals,” Gottbaum said. “Those who are trained. Those who care. Those who are on the buses every day. They are not only professionals; they are committed.”
He said that it was especially bad that the mayor wants to turn these services over to the lowest bidder. “That’s wrong for employees, but it’s especially wrong for our children,” Gottbaum said.