Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the strike started at 6 a.m. About 200 bus drivers and bus matrons, who help kids on and off buses, were assembled on picket lines in Queens.
Union head Michael Cordiello told a news conference that the drivers will strike until Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city agree to put a job security clause back into their contract.
"I came to urge the mayor to resolve this strike," said Cordiello, president of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. "It is within his power to do so."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg says police were called after pickets blocked gates while trying to keep school buses from leaving their parking areas.
Bloomberg said at a news conference that four bus companies called police. The mayor called the incidents "an outrage." He said the city will not permit what he calls "reprehensible conduct."
Parents used subways, carpools and other alternatives to get their children to school, hitting slippery roads as sleet turned to rain around the city and temperatures were at or above freezing.
Wednesday's walkout was by the largest bus drivers' union; some bus routes served by other unions were operating. The city Department of Education said approximately 3,000 bus routes out of 7,700 total were running.
Most of the city's roughly 1.1 million public school students take public transportation or walk to school.
Walcott said that preliminary figures show attendance was 88.5 percent on Wednesday. He says that's just 1 percent less than average for January.
Those who rely on the buses include 54,000 special education students and others who live far from schools or transportation. They also include students who attend specialized school programs outside of their neighborhoods.
The city has put its contracts with private bus companies up for bid, aiming to cut costs. Local 1181 says drivers could suddenly lose their jobs when contracts expire in June.
Seeking a speedy end to the strike, a consortium of 20 bus companies filed two complaints with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday accusing the union of waging an unlawful secondary strike and of not bargaining in good faith.
"We are asking the NLRB for an immediate ruling," said Carolyn Daly, a spokeswoman for the bus companies.
In an industrial part of Queens' Ridgewood neighborhood, several dozen union members showed up to stand in the cold rain in front of the Amboy Bus Company.
"Union! Power!" they chanted, pumping their fists into the air.
Driver Edwin Beniquez said Bloomberg "wants to put out these bids to pay less, below living wages, but he'll end up with less experienced drivers."
The city planned to distribute transit cards to students who can take buses and subways and to reimburse parents who would have to drive or take taxis.
The city doesn't directly hire the bus drivers and matrons, who work for private companies that have city contracts. The workers make an average of about $35,000 a year, with a driver starting at $14 an hour and potentially making as much as $29 an hour over time, according to Cordiello.
Bloomberg has said the city must seek competitive bids to save money.
The union sought job protections for current drivers in the new contracts. The city said that the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, has barred it from including such provisions because of competitive bidding laws; the union said that's not so.
Summary and links:
The city is taking the following steps for families of students who currently receive yellow bus service:
The DOE will continue to update New Yorkers and will post new information on Schools.NYC.gov. Information will also be available at 311.
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