Since Jan. 16, the ATU 1181 bus drivers have been out on the picket lines fighting for job stability, benefits and better wages, and so far they have yet to reach a discussion with Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the issue.
Last Friday, the National Labor Review Board ruled that the drivers were within their legal rights to walk off the job.
The Board ruled the close to 8,000 drivers are in fact operating under an authorized walkout, saying the bus drivers answer to the Department of Education who currently set rules in regards to certifications, discipline as well as the right to seniority.
Drivers went on strike for the first time since 1979 when the city announced they could not include an Employment Protected Provisions (EPP) clause, providing job security to drivers based on seniority when putting city contracts to provide the service out to bid.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has argued that including such a provision would be illegal and that the city simply can't do it.
According to ATU International President Larry Hanley, Bloomberg has refused a proposed freeze to the strike and bids that would have sent the school bus drivers back to work during deliberation.
“The reason that the union said yes to the idea of freezing this strike and freezing the bids is so that we can have a rational and intelligent discussion with the mayor and with the other affected parties in the city, including the parents, about where the course really lies,” Hanley said.
Lauren Passalacqua, a spokesperson for the mayor, said in response to the suggested freeze, that ”postponing the bids would guarantee that the same billion-dollar contracts we have now stay in place next year.”
“The union is irresponsibly holding our students and city hostage over issues that can only be resolved by negotiating directly with the bus companies,” Passalacqua said.
Walter Oakman, an executive board member for ATU 1181, says their demands are not unreasonable and the mayor is in fact the one who is at fault for the lengthiness of the standoff.
“We never felt like it was illegal, and if we did we would never be out here on strike,” Oakman said of Bloomberg’s interpretation of their demands. “But that’s what we get from the mayor. If we don’t get the EPP, which he has refused to put it in, that means our drivers, when their contract is up, they don’t have a job.”
He remains confident that the city will sit down for talks, hopefully striking a deal on job security.
“So far, the city has refused to sit at the table, and we hope the city is willing,” he said.
Over the last several weeks, a number of local elected officials have joined the picket lines in support of the union.
Queens Councilman Daniel Dromm joined a number of bus drivers last week at the Atlantic Express Bus Depot in Ridgewood, encouraging the drivers to hold their union together.
“He is allowed to have a contract that ensures the seniority rights of the future workers n the community,” Dromm told the drivers. “He just chose to interpret it differently, and he is turning his back on these workers and the workers of our city. But you know what, he’s a billionaire and what does he know.”
Dromm also criticized replacement drivers, who have received some backlash from the striking union members.
“I am very upset by these people coming in here and taking these buses out, these scabs,” Dromm said. “To me, to break a union picket line is immoral and should not be done, and to take a man's job away by coming in here and driving these buses is immoral. That’s what I’ve been taught and that’s what I grew up on.”
It was reported last week that 11 of Reliant Transportation’s buses tires were slashed when they announced replacement workers would be driving them.
Dromm, a teacher for 25 years at P.S. 199 in Sunnyside, says the drivers remain a fundamental piece to the education process and if they stay together, he remains hopeful they will acquire their demands for an EPP clause.
“In solidarity there’s always hope, and I think there still is a lot of hope,” Dromm told the drivers. “I know that this union is a strong union, and that if they stick together they are going to win eventually.”