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School Bus Strike in NYC Could Happen Any Day

City officials won't meet with union; drivers concerned about potential job loss or pay cuts

By Zachary Stieber
Epoch Times Staff
Created: January 7, 2013 Last Updated: January 10, 2013
Related articles: United States » New York City
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School bus drivers, parents, and teachers gather at City Hall Park on Jan. 6 for a rally, trying to pressure city officials into meeting with union officials. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

School bus drivers, parents, and teachers gather at City Hall Park on Jan. 6 for a rally, trying to pressure city officials into meeting with union officials. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

NEW YORK—School bus drivers could strike any day over what they call unfair changes to contracts.

“[City officials] want us to take a cut in pay, and just get paid per hour what we work,” said Vincent Dassisi, 62, a driver for 39 years. The company he works for has been telling drivers they’ll have to work for less or get fired.

Typical top pay for drivers is $48,000 a year ($29 an hour with benefits). But the upcoming change in some of the contracts could include a shift from salary to hourly pay, said Dassasi. He’s seen an advertisement looking for bus drivers for $20 a day.

If he says strike, we all have to.
–Joseph Pizzuti, bus driver

The city’s Department of Education contracts school transportation to bus companies, which then contract to drivers.

About 14 percent of the bus routes are up for bid for the start of the next school year, but the bids won’t include a provision that drivers treasure: the Employee Protection Provision, which mandates companies to hire drivers who have been let go by other companies in order of seniority.

Michael Cordiello, president of Amalgated Transit Union Local 1181, speaks at a rally where hundreds of school bus drivers and parents gathered at the City Hall Park in New York City, Jan. 6. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Michael Cordiello, president of Amalgated Transit Union Local 1181, speaks at a rally where hundreds of school bus drivers and parents gathered at the City Hall Park in New York City, Jan. 6. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

The request for bids from the city’s Department of Education (NYCDOE) is for the transport of 22,500 students over 1,100 routes.

The department’s Office of Pupil Transportation serves 152,000 students with 7,700 bus routes.

“We do not want to strike—a strike is the last card we want to play—but, if we are given no other alternative and no other option, we will do what we need to do,” said Michael Cordiello, president of Amalgamated Transit Union, at a rally next to City Hall on Sunday where hundreds of drivers and parents converged.

Calling a strike is Cordiello’s decision, according to one driver.

“If he says strike, we all have to,” said Joseph Pizzuti, who drives in all five boroughs. Under the so-called “Wildcat” though, if drivers take students to school in the morning, they won’t leave them stranded there after school, said Pizzuti.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott updates on the potential school bus driver strike at a press conference. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott updates on the potential school bus driver strike at a press conference. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Union and education officials have not met since Dec. 21. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said there is nothing to discuss.

“We’re doing what we’re required to do, which is release a request for a bid,” he said at a press conference happening at the same time as the rally. “They’re doing what they’re not required to do, talking about striking.”

Striking is legal from the city’s point of view but the drivers would be breaking contracts with the bus companies, Walcott said.

What it Means for Parents

Cordiello, the union head, wouldn’t put a timeline on strikes.

“I did not draw a line in the sand,” he told reporters at the rally. “We are still working out our options and reaching out to the city to come and talk to us, and that is our final option.”

Carin van der Donk, founder of Common Sense Busing and parent to a special needs child, speaks at a rally held by school bus drivers and parents, calling on city officials to take action so bus drivers don't strike. van der Donk is concerned that replacement bus drivers won't be able to accommodate special needs children. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Carin van der Donk, founder of Common Sense Busing and parent to a special needs child, speaks at a rally held by school bus drivers and parents, calling on city officials to take action so bus drivers don't strike. van der Donk is concerned that replacement bus drivers won't be able to accommodate special needs children. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

In the event of a strike, NYCDOE has prepared alternative choices of transportation for students who usually take the bus:

- Get MetroCards through their schools.

- For grades K-six only, parents can drive their children to school and get reimbursed $0.55 per mile or all costs for taxi and car service.

- Use online materials that will be posted if a strike happens for children that cannot get to school.

The department will keep its website updated about the potential strike.

Employee Protection Provision

Bus drivers Joseph Pizzuti, Sallyanne Maltese, Evelyn Catalino, and Tony Yodice gather at a rally on Jan.6. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Bus drivers Joseph Pizzuti, Sallyanne Maltese, Evelyn Catalino, and Tony Yodice gather at a rally on Jan.6. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

The debate over whether to include the Employee Protection Provision in the new bids stems from a court ruling over busing pre-K students, which is a separate system from K-12.

A judge ruled in June 2011 against an attempt to introduce the seniority provision into the pre-K system. Now, the K-12 provisions protecting seniority, introduced in 1979, are being taken out of the K-12 contracts through the interpretation that the 2011 ruling applies industrywide.

But Richard Brook, attorney for the drivers’ union, said that the court decision was for the pre-K bids only. “That was different, a different set of circumstances.”

A principal allegation from the union and drivers is that new contracts will, by not favoring seniority, endanger children by opening the door to inexperienced drivers.

But department officials said they are also concerned about safety. Eric Goldstein, CEO of School Support Services, said stringent standards from the old contracts, such as background checks and training, are included in the new contracts.

Additional reporting by Benjamin Chasteen

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