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Day 2 of school bus drivers' strike in New York City

January 17, 2013 2:25:40 PM PST
New York City's first school bus strike in 34 years entered its second day Thursday with no resolution in sight and tens of thousands of parents scrambling to get their kids to school.

Some parents said the strike was wreaking havoc with their schedules. Saah Hinneh brought his third-grader to Staten Island Community Charter School and then rushed to work.

"I'm supposed to be at work at 8 o'clock," he said. "If you are late three times, they write you up." Hinneh said that if the strike continues, he will ask for his shift to be changed to afternoons or nights. "I don't want to lose my job," he said.

Also on Staten Island, Angela Peralta's day included getting up at 5 a.m. to drive one of her daughters to Intermediate School 2, going to work, then taking her three daughters to dance class and shopping for furniture to replace what she lost when Superstorm Sandy flooded her home.

"I'm hoping this will be over by Monday or Tuesday because I can't do this much longer," she said.

The strike pits the city's need to rein in spiraling costs against the bus drivers' goal of preserving their jobs.

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 now. The city spends almost $7,000 per bus passenger, compared with $3,200 in Chicago and $5,000 in Miami.

The city contracts with private bus companies, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the city must seek competitive bids to save money. But Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union wants the new contracts to include job protections for current drivers.

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.

"The strike is about job guarantees that the union just can't have," Bloomberg said Wednesday.

But Local 1181 President Mike Cordiello went on "Good Day New York" on Thursday to again urge the city to negotiate. "Stop saying that you can't negotiate - you can," he said.

On a union picket line in Queens, a bus matron who goes by the name of C. Gorman said she herself has two special-education kids who depend on school buses to take them to class.

"I'm paying $30 a day to get them to and from school every day while I'm here," said Gorman, who lives in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

Between loss of salary due to the strike and money needed to get the kids to school, "I'm losing money," she said. "I don't think I have enough money to make it through the month."

Some buses were running Thursday because their drivers are not members of Local 1181, and the city Department of Education said 2,320 bus routes out of 7,700 were operating.

The department also said strikers tried to block buses from leaving 11 depots on Thursday. The union did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

School bus riders include 54,000 children with disabilities, many of them in wheelchairs, and attendance was down steeply among those students Wednesday and Thursday.

The 8,800 bus drivers and matrons who went on strike 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.

Some parents said the workers deserve that and they support the strike.

"Everybody wants to know that they have secure jobs, and we also want to know that our children are safe," said Tamika Hearn, who drove her third-grade daughter to Central Park East II School in Manhattan.

About a dozen parents and education activists rallied in support of the union in front of City Hall.

Johnnie Stevens said his son, Kwame, 10, who has Asperger's syndrome, feels comfortable with his bus driver and matron.

"Yesterday, he was crying, 'I don't want to go on the train. Why can't I take the bus?'" Stevens said. He ultimately drove Kwame from the family's home in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood to the child's East Harlem school; Kwame was sick with an apparent case of flu Thursday and stayed home, the father said.

Local 1181 released a TV ad Wednesday that showed images of wrecked buses and warned, "When inexperienced drivers take your kids to school, sometimes they never get there."

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Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

CLICK HERE FOR 7 THINGS TO KNOW DURING THE STRIKE

Summary and links:

The city is taking the following steps for families of students who currently receive yellow bus service:

  • All students who currently receive yellow bus service may receive a MetroCard. MetroCards should be requested through the school's general office. The DOE has informed the Metropolitan Transit Authority that it may need to accommodate additional riders.

  • Parents of pre-school and school-age children with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and require transportation from their home directly to their school, as well as parents of general education children in grades K-2, may also request a MetroCard to escort their children to school.

  • Parents of children who receive busing from their home or are in grades K through 6 and do not live in areas where public transportation between home and school is available may request reimbursement for transportation costs. Parents who drive their children to school will be reimbursed at a rate of 55 cents per mile. Parents who use a taxi or car service to transport their child to school will be reimbursed for the trip upon completion of reimbursement forms that includes a receipt for provided services. Requests for reimbursements should be made weekly on forms that will be available on the DOE web site, Schools.NYC.gov, and in schools' general offices. Families who plan to drive or use a car service to carpool are encouraged to carpool with their neighbors whenever possible.

  • In the unfortunate event that students cannot get to school, the Department will be posting materials online for every grade and core subject so that students can continue their learning at home during the strike.

    The DOE will continue to update New Yorkers and will post new information on Schools.NYC.gov. Information will also be available at 311.

    (The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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