December 9, 2011
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
Michael Cordiello, President of ATU Local 1181-1061, in response to Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement that the union would be going on strike, announced on the steps of City Hall on December 6 that his union will not be striking this holiday season. For more than 30 years Local 1181 drivers have safely driven pre-kindergarten children to and from school. But now their jobs and children’s safety are at stake because the City is pushing ahead for new contract bids with yellow-bus vendors without including an Employee Protection Provision that would protect members’ wages and benefits and guarantee the best drivers are hired.
The current contracts with vendors don’t expire until June 2012, but the City wants to secure new contracts now. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, in a statement, wrote that “New York State’s highest court recently ruled that we may not include an [EPP] requirement in our bids,” raising the prospect of a strike in the New Year if the two sides can’t reach an agreement.
Cordiello and Local 1181-1061 represent about 15,000 school bus drivers, of which 9,000 members (drivers, mechanics and escorts) transport City school children. He said that City policy for the past three decades has been to ensure that the most experienced and professional drivers are behind the wheel. “Suddenly, the City is changing its tune by wanting to save a few bucks by awarding new contracts to the lowest bidder.”
The union contends that the safety of pre-K children is at risk because of the possibility of inexperienced drivers being hired by any new vendors that win the bid. Cordiello said, when asked whether potentially new drivers couldn’t meet his standards of safety, “Everyone has to start somewhere, but we also shouldn’t abandon the most experienced drivers.”
Daniel Gatto, President of IBT Local 854, who represents about 1,000 members driving yellow school buses, said his drivers earn only $13 to $15 per hour, but yet “the City wants to diminish their livelihoods in one fell swoop.” He noted that a couple of weeks ago at a pre-bid conference out-of-state vendors met with Department of Education (DOE) officials, raising concern that the vendors could potentially hire out-of-state drivers who aren’t familiar with the City’s streets.
Showing solidarity with ATU Local 1181 were President John Samuelsen of TWU Local 100 and Vice President Kyle Bragg of SEIU 32BJ. Samuelsen said over the last several years, an ugly pattern has emerged of government officials more concerned with the bottom line rather than children. He referred to the MTA’s proposal two years ago to stop discounted fares for students in order to close budget shortfalls. “Two years on, we have to collectively fight back against plundering banks being paid millions of dollars on the backs of children.”
Braggs said that SEIU 32BJ stands in full support of Local 1181 and called on the Mayor to do the right thing. “The Mayor’s proposed low-cost bid doesn’t guarantee that professional and quality services will be provided.”
Cordiello said that the discount bus industry, referring to an incident in March when 15 people died in a crash in the Bronx, should serve as a stark reminder that lax regulations and cost-cutting put peoples’ lives in danger. “We have seen our kids grow up on buses our drivers have safely driven for years. But the Mayor is more interested in awarding the lowest bidder than ensuring the safety of our children.”