October 28, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
Brooklyn, NY – Drivers and attendants at two of the city’s leading school-bus contractors voted Oct. 26 to authorize a strike, possibly when their current contract extension expires on Tuesday morning, Nov.
1. About 85% of the Teamsters Local 553 members who participated voted yes, according to the union.
Key issues are management’s demands that the workers pay $10 to $20 a week for health care and give up paid holidays if they take sick days, said Local 553 secretary-treasurer Demos Demopoulos. The union represents about 600 drivers and attendants at Y&M Transit, which has a contract with the city Department of Education to transport special-needs pupils in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and part of Queens, and about 300 at Jofaz Transportation, which buses public and parochial-school pupils to and from school and on field trips.
The two companies operate about 600 routes. They both have the same owner and operate under the same union contract, which expired in June. The union has extended it twice.
Particularly galling, said Demopoulos, is management’s demand that because of the new city law requiring employers to give five paid sick days a year, it will have to take away one paid holiday for every day a worker calls in sick—so if they’re out one day in November, they won’t get paid for Thanksgiving.
“They’re not even allowing people to choose which holidays,” he told LaborPress. “We’re not going to give up one benefit to get another.”
“To say I shouldn’t get holiday pay for Thanksgiving, or for Martin Luther King Day, just because I called out when I was sick? That is so disrespectful,” Lisa Cilone, a Jofaz school bus driver, said in a statement released by the Teamsters.
Jofaz would not comment on the talks.
Management is also asking that workers begin paying $10 a week for health insurance if they’re single and $20 for a family, which Demopoulos called “patently unfair.” “We have a lot of single mothers trying to bring up families,” he said. None of the more than 2,000 workers Local 553 represents at other bus companies pay for health insurance, he added.
Attendants currently make $10 to $10.50 an hour, while drivers make $900 to $1,000 a week but are usually laid off during the summer. The company is offering a 50¢-an-hour increase for attendants and none for drivers, he said.
It is also, according to Demopoulos, not putting enough money into the health-benefit fund to guarantee the amount of coverage it’s promised. That means that workers will have to pay more or have their benefits cut some time in the future.
He said the union was “hopeful” an agreement would be reached without a strike, and was waiting to hear back from the company.