Members of ATU Local 1181 voted to end their month-long strike against more than 20 New York City school bus companies. The 8,000 drivers, aides, and mechanics will return to work on February 20. The strike ends without workers achieving their primary goal: retaining the Employee Protection Provision that Mayor Michael Bloomberg said would not be included in school bus service contracts that come up for renewal this summer.
“Though our strike has been suspended, the principles that we fight for remain pressing issues that the city will have to address,” said ATU Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello in a statement about the end of the strike. “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.”
For more than 30 years, the Employee Protection Provision (EPP), a master seniority list of school bus employees that New York City school bus companies must use to fill job vacancies, has ensured that the companies employ a stable, experienced, and well-qualified workforce to get students, especially special needs students, to school safely and on time.
“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 when the strike began on January 16.
The strike, which the National Labor Relations Board earlier this month ruled to be legal, began after Mayor Bloomberg announced that school bus companies would no longer have to include EPP’s in proposals for bus routes that they are seeking to operate. The mayor said that eliminating EPPs would reduce costs for the companies and save the city money. The city provides school bus services to 150,000 public and private school students in New York City.
While the strike was against the private school bus companies, the union has said all along that the strike could not be settled unless the mayor got involved in the negotiations and worked with both sides to resolve the EPP issue.
The union tried three times to get the mayor involved in negotiations but was repeatedly rebuffed.
Union members voted to return to work after receiving a letter signed jointly by five Democratic candidates for mayor: former City Councilman Sal Albanese, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller John Liu, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former City Comptroller William Thompson.
“We continue to stand with you in your battle for job security and decent wages,” reads the letter. “At this time, however, with an intransigent administration. . . we call upon you and your members to return to their jobs and continue the battle in other ways. We know this is not an easy decision. But we pledge, if elected, to revisit the school bus transportation system and contracts.”
“It gives us great confidence that the next mayor of this city will be far more sympathetic to the working conditions of the drivers, matrons and mechanics that make up Local 1181,” said Cordiello in a statement about the letter.
Some union members were leery about returning to work without resolving the EPP issue but at the same time resigned to the fact that they lacked the leverage needed to force Mayor Bloomberg to talk. There was also some hope that workers might get better results from a new administration.
“I wouldn’t feel good about it,” said bus driver Maria Gentile to NY1 as union members were preparing to vote on whether to return to work. “I think that eventually, if we do go back on the job, and they’re not put in place, I think that we have, we’re moving forward in a direction to put us where we need to be. Because people now know what 1181 is all about. They know that we’re all about security and safety.”