January 24, 2013
By Neal Tepel, LaborPress Publisher
Photos by Stephanie West
As I looked at the 100 demonstrators from Local 1181 carrying signs and walking in front of the Department of Education in 30 degree weather on Friday January 18th, I asked myself "Why couldn't the Mayor avoid this bus strike". The reason of course is simple. Michael Bloomberg doesn't talk with labor organizations.
He will think of any phony excuse to avoid negotiating with a union or talking to a labor leader, even if it makes good sense to reach out to a union official.
The citywide school bus strike was announced at a press conference on Monday January 14, 2013. "This is not a decision that we arrived at lightly, but an action we must take," said Michael Cordiello, president of Amalgamated Transportation Union's (ATU) Local 1181. Local 1181 represents 9,000 school bus drivers and matrons. "Mayor Michael Bloomberg has the power to stop this strike," said Michael Cordiello. For the first time in over 30 years, the city issued bus route bids without inclusion of the Employee Protection Provision (EPP), which has provided New York City with years of stable, quality, school bus service. The bids ordered by City Hall include 1150 routes affecting 2,000 bus drivers serving children in special education classes.
The Employee Protection Provision creates industry wide seniority for bus drivers and matrons, regardless whether unionized or not. This important system encourages workers to stay on the job and has led to a stable, experienced workforce. There is little turnover with most personnel having over six years work experience. The average wage for a union bus driver is $35,000 a year with non-union workers earning less. The pension system is privately operated and funded through members and bus companies.
The Mayor's position is simple, there is nothing to talk about with the union since it would be illegal for the city to include the EPP in the bids because of a ruling made by a judge at the Court of Appeals in a prior case. However, Michael Cordiello and the union's council Richard Gilberg stated that the court ruling cannot be interpreted to have systemwide application.
The drivers and matrons I spoke to at this January 18th demonstration in front of the DOE, knew exactly what was at stake. Without the inclusion of an Employee Protection Provision (EPP) these dedicated workers with years of experience would be out of work. Although they provide dependable safe transportation service for children, some with 15 or 20 years' experience, without the EPP seniority clause, they were all in danger of termination: losing their livelihood, pension and health benefits.
John with 18 years' experience told me "I love my job and want to continue driving children to school until I retire. I treat the children like my own. Why would the Mayor refuse to negotiate with the union"? He did not want to use his name or location for fear of being harassed by the bus company.
NYS AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento has stated that "School bus drivers and crews are going on strike for one reason and one reason only; the Mayor has decided to put his pride over the safety of New York City
children. Rather than admit that he created this problem and can solve it simply by putting safeguards in the bid, he is hiding behind an unrelated court decision that he falsely claims is forcing his hand".