February 13, 2013
By Neal Tepel, LaborPress Publisher
Photos by Stephanie West
I arrived at 250 Broadway on Friday morning February 8, 2013 around 10AM to attend an 11AM New York City Council hearing regarding the school bus strike. As I approached the building hundreds of people were outside the facility waiting in line to enter and attend this New York City Council Education Committee Hearing regarding the bus strike.
Across the street were about 500 orderly demonstrators within a police barrior.
I was surprised that the large council chamber at city hall was not used for the session which would have prevented the confusion in front of 250 Broadway. A long line of about 150 drivers and matrons were waiting for credentials in order to attend the hearing and the line extended for several yards outside with police nearby. While waiting to be admitted into the building, I spoke to "Tony" a 40 something bus driver and told him I'm from LaborPress and will report on the hearing. Tony said to me 'if we lose the EPP I'm out of job, no health insurance, pension, or income. I can't believe
my Mayor will be putting me and my family on street". He was very emotion and started to sob. He knew, as well as the others, that without employee protection clause that the city had agreed to for the last thirty years, he will be unemployed.
Since I was wearing a LaborPress hat, a security guard came over to me and asked if I was press. I said yes and he escorted me off the line and through the scanner. I arrived to a packed conference room on the 16th floor. Another area was set up as an 'overflow' section with a monitor viewing the hearing.
At around 11AM several council members entered the room and sat in a designated section. The hearing was chaired by Finance Chair Domenic Recchia and Education Chair Robert Jackson. Councilman Jackson began by saying "The
Bloomberg Administration maintains that the City is trying to cut transportation costs by putting bus contracts out to competitive bid without the Employment Protection Provisions (EPPs) that have been in place since 1979. The administration also contends that a court decision prevents the city from including the EPPs. The union that called the strike, Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, counters that the City is misreading the court decision and is "simply engaging in union busting."
New York City Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott was the first to testify at the session. Chancellor Walcott stated that "The bus contracts bid is a necessary process that will both improve service and better manage our costs." He continued, "In order to avoid a potential reduction in service and generate savings that will be funneled back into our classrooms, we had to take action." The Chancellor further stated that ATU Local 1181 called the strike because the city's Request for Proposal (RFP) for 1,110 school-age special education bus route contracts does not
contain an Employee Protection Provision (EPP). "This provision makes it extremely difficult for companies to bid on routes because they cannot predict or control the costs of operating their buses."
ATU Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello spoke about the importance of the EPP in providing safe transportation for children. "Since 1979, New York City officials have included the EPP in bus company contracts, knowing full well that the EPP has created one of the safest and most skilled workforces in the country." A version of the provision dates back to 1965. "In 2011 the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the City of New York has the power to control the content of contracts – such as the inclusion of EPP's – as it has done for over 30 years." While the Mayor contends that the City cannot legally sit with the union, a recent NLRB decision stated that the City is a primary employer and has an obligation to negotiate with the union, said Cordiello.
UFT Vice President Carmen Alvarez mentioned that the city continues to leave more than $500 million in federal Medicaid reimbursements on the table each year, including $175 million for busing students with special needs. The
Mayor's refusal to negotiate with union has prolonged the strike and has left 150,000 students including 54,000 special needs youngsters. In addition, special education District 75 student attendance is down 16%.
Flora Huang, a parent of a child in a gifted program said to me that the strike is causing great hardships to children, parents and families. She is very concerned about the safety of children on the bus without the experienced unionized bus drivers and matrons. Flora as well as thousands of parents, teachers, and principals knows the EPP provision has resulted in a very experienced and trained core of workers.
The bus drivers and matrons of Local 1181 are aware they enjoy broad support throughout the city. New Yorkers from every community as well as those working in schools and municipal government are sympathetic to the strikers.
While these workers are determined to win, they also realize they are up against a strong-minded Mayor that wants to break the union even if it results in forcing New Yorkers on unemployment.