With worries of a repeated strike by school bus drivers, Mayor Bill de Blasio has requested City Council to grant the drivers a $42 million pay raise. Despite opposition, the City Council Education Committee passed the legislation on Thursday morning for a vote by the full council.
Until last year under the Bloomberg administration, the bidding process for school bus drivers favored seniority. In 2013, changes to the contracts forced school bus drivers to take a pay cut. The unionized bus drivers went on strike for one month, affecting 100,000 students, but returned to work without a settlement.
Top drivers previously made about $29 per hour, and the new contracts set base pay at $14 per hour for all drivers.
“It is bad policy to allow what traditionally has been a very qualified, experienced, and skilled workforce in the school bus industry to be replaced by a non-skilled, inexperienced, and transient workforce,” said Michael Cordiello, president of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, in a testimony to City Council on Tuesday.
But giving the school bus drivers a pay raise now would set a bad precedent, some council members said.
Many council members voted for the pay raise but expressed some reservation.
Many of the children who ride the buses are special needs students, explained council member Mark Levine who voted for the raise, and it helps to have experienced bus drivers to work with them. But Levine saw it as a one-time fix.
Council member Stephen Levin also voted for the raise but said in the future issues like this should be resolved through the budget process.
Council member Juumane Williams voted for the raise but said this showed a lack of transparency, and sent a bad message to those participating in the budget process.
There were companies who bid for the contracts willing to pay the school bus drivers less and this effectively gives the contract to companies who require more pay, according to council member Dan Garodnick, who did not vote in favor for the raise.
“Our procurement process needs to maintain its integrity,” said Garodnick. “There is no guarantee this would be a one-shot deal.”
Garodnick said that while the goal was admirable, this opened up the City Council to giving grants to other groups for a variety of reasons and set a bad precedent, which ultimately is not in the public interest. He did, however, vote in favor of passing a resolution calling on State legislature to weigh seniority more in the procurement process.
Fiscal policy organization Citizens Budget Commission is urging City Council to reject the pay raise proposal.
“Such grants would, in effect, constitute supplementary payments to City contractors over and above the terms of legally binding, competitively bid contracts, in exchange for no additional services,” CBC president Carol Kellermann said in a statement.
Savings from the school bus driver contracts had already been factored into the city budget, Kellermann explained, so the grant would require cutting other services.
Kellermann said the legislation was a grant that would pay employees higher wages than the agreed-upon contracts and undermine the integrity of the bidding process.
It would also “set a troublesome precedent for other vendors that provide services to the City to seek similar de facto enhancements to their contracts,” Kellermann stated.