November 2, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
Brooklyn, NY – The union representing the 900 drivers and attendants at two Brooklyn school-bus companies reached a tentative contract deal late on the night of Oct. 31, averting a strike that could have begun the next morning.
The proposed agreement between Teamsters Local 553 and Jofaz Transportation and Y&M Transit will give workers raises of up to $2.50 an hour and not require them to pay for health insurance, said Demos Demopoulos, the union’s secretary-treasurer.
A ratification vote has not yet been scheduled, he said, but workers are “very, very happy” about the proposed raises, not having to strike, and beating back the company’s demand that they contribute $10 to $20 a week for their health insurance.
The owner of Jofaz and Y&M dropped the demand for health-care payments “after much, much heated negotiations,” Demopoulos told LaborPress. In exchange, the union compromised on the employer’s decision that workers who call in sick will be docked for the next paid holiday. The two companies, he said, could not afford to comply with the new city law mandating five paid sick days a year and also give ten paid holidays. Under the proposed contract, workers who take sick days off will not lose pay for “family holidays” such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The two companies are among the largest school bus companies in New York City. Local 553 represents about 600 drivers and attendants at Y&M, 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, which buses public and parochial-school pupils to and from school and on field trips.
“I am so thankful to win a contract that protects our health care,” Jofaz driver Lisa Cilone said in a statement from the union. “We are proud of the work we do. This job is important and school bus employees should be fairly compensated.”
A deeper issue is that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet signed a bill passed by the state legislature last June that would let New York City restore “employee protection provisions” for school-bus workers. Those provisions, which require city bus contractors to hire workers in order of seniority and at the same wages and benefits they had in their most recent job, were eliminated by then-mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013, provoking a unsuccessful strike by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, which represents most of the city’s school-bus drivers and attendants.
Demopoulos said the Teamsters hoped Cuomo would sign the bill, because it would help both workers and employers who are willing to pay good wages and benefits. Bloomberg, he said, “made the playing field advantageous to nonunion employers.”
“As long school busing is treated as a low wage ‘logistics’ industry and not an educational service under community control, problems will persist in the working and riding conditions,” Parents to Improve School Transportation, a parents’ organization that offered to join picket lines if the bus workers went on strike, said in a statement Nov. 1. “We continue to seek full restoration of Employee Protection Provisions, better training, and shorter, safer, stable bus routes for the children.”
Demopoulos agrees. Transporting children, he said, is too important to be left to the lowest bidder.