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Washington board rules school bus drivers' strike legal

February 1, 2013 9:20:43 AM PST
The National Labor Relations Board in Washington has ruled in favor of New York City school bus drivers' right to strike, dismissing complaints from bus companies seeking an injunction.

The school bus companies will likely appeal.

A spokesperson for Department of Education released the following statement:

"This ruling doesn't change the fact that the union is recklessly holding our students and city hostage over issues it must settle directly with the bus companies."

New York City officials have not claimed that the strike is illegal, just that the Employee Protection Provisions (EPPs) that the union is asking the city to put in the bids are illegal, as ruled by the New York State Court of Appeals.

City officials say that if the drivers were public employees and the city was responsible for hiring, as the union suggests, a strike would be illegal.

Earlier this week, union leaders said they were willing to end the strike in exhange for a "cooling-off period," but the conditions were unacceptable to the city.

In exchange for an up to 80 day periood and a return to work, the union wanted the city not to put new contracts up for bids, as leaders make their case for why they say drivers salaries are not the reason for the high costs of school busing. The City declined the offer.

During the cooling-off period, bus driver and attendants would've gone back to work and the city would have held off on seeking bids for new bus contracts, said Michael Cordiello, president of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

At the same time, Cordiello said, city officials, bus companies and the union would have sat down and talked about "real cost-saving measures and preserving existing employees."

"We think it's a viable way to end the strike," he said.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg disagreed.

"Postponing the bids would guarantee that the same billion-dollar contracts we have now stay in place next year," spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua said. "The union is irresponsibly holding our students and city hostage over issues that can only be resolved by negotiating directly with the bus companies."

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.

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

Some school buses have been running because their drivers are not unionized or belong to unions that are not on strike.

The city Department of Education said that as of Wednesday, 2,829 bus routes were operating out of 7,700 total routes.

Some 54,000 of the children who rely on school buses are special-needs students, many in wheelchairs, and only about two-thirds of those students have been attending school since the strike started Jan. 16.

The Department of Education is providing free transit passes and taxi reimbursements so families don't have to pay to get their children to school. In addition, the department is posting materials online for students who can't get to school.

A department spokeswoman confirmed a published report that Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott is receiving police protection because of the strike but would not comment on why the added security was necessary.

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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