‘We are not giving back
what we won in struggle’
NYC school bus workers fight union busting
|Striking school bus workers picket New York City Board of Education Jan. 28. Bus companies and city officials want right to fire workers and cut wages every time bus routes are up for bid.
BY SETH GALINSKY
NEW YORK—Spirits were high at the picket line of striking school bus workers outside the New York Board of Education offices here Jan. 28. Some 8,800 drivers, attendants and mechanics who belong to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 are staffing picket lines at bus depots around the city.
The strike began Jan. 16 after Mayor Michael Bloomberg and School Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced that Employee Protection Provisions that have been in place for almost 50 years were now “illegal” and could not be part of future contracts.
Instead of hiring workers directly, the city contracts out some 7,700 routes to privately owned bus companies. About 1,100 routes are up for competitive bidding this year.
Under the protection provisions, companies that win bids must first hire workers laid off from other companies through a master pick list in order of seniority. And they must pay the same wages and benefits each worker had before being laid off.
Without the protections, workers explain, their union would be gutted and their wages driven down, as nothing would prevent bus companies from hiring new workers at lower pay and tossing higher-paid workers out on the street.
“We’re not fighting for higher wages or better benefits,” Richie Perrone, 58, told the Militant. “But we’re not looking to give anything back either.” Perrone has been driving school buses for 35 years and was part of the 14-week strike in 1979 that extended the protection provisions.
Drivers start out at $14 an hour and top out at less than $30 after six years on the job. Attendants start at $11 and top out at $15.31.
“Bloomberg says we make too much,” John Barone, a driver for 12 years, said on the picket line. “We work 10 hours a day, 50 hours a week, but only get paid for 40. And then we only work 44 weeks a year. The other eight we file for unemployment. When you add it all up, the $29 an hour I make is really $18.25.”
“When we drive in Manhattan you can’t even go to the bathroom,” added Maria Filgueira, a driver for 15 years. “A lot of times you can’t find a place to park. If we get ticketed, we have to pay out of our pocket.
“We’re not the ones making too much money,” she said. “It’s the companies that are making millions.”
“I’ve spoken to some of the workers who were in the strike in 1979,” said Noemia Topete, who has worked as an attendant for three years. “During that strike, nobody got through the picket lines, no buses got out of the bases.”
According to the Department of Education, as of Jan. 25 some 2,689 out of 7,700 bus routes are operating—369 more than at the start of the strike. Some are nonunion companies. Two so-called independent unions, United Craft and Industrial Workers Union Local 91, which organizes some workers at Logan Bus Co., and United Service Workers Union Local 355, which is providing temporary workers for Staten Island Bus Company, are crossing the picket lines. Calls requesting comment from officials at both locals were not returned.
Two replacement workers walk out
According to the New York Daily News, two replacement drivers who showed up at the Staten Island depot changed their mind when they saw the picket line “and were greeted with applause as they departed.”
The New York Times reported that one obstacle to the bus companies hiring more scabs is that it usually takes six months to get a Class B commercial license with special endorsements for driving a school bus.
Parents to Improve School Transportation is organizing a Solidarity Car Caravan Feb. 2 to support the strike. United Steelworkers Local 8751, which organizes school bus drivers in Boston, announced it will have a contingent in the caravan.
Representatives of Local 1181 and the New York School Bus Contractors Association met Jan. 28 to discuss the strike. Bloomberg refused to join the negotiations.
“We urge Mayor Bloomberg to join us at the table to work towards ending this strike,” said Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello in a Jan. 28 press statement. “Until that happens, the strike goes on.”
“We live paycheck to paycheck,” said Topete. “We couldn’t set any money aside before the strike. But we’ll be out here for weeks if we need to be.”
Local 1181 is asking strike supporters to join the picket line in front of the Board of Education, 52 Chambers St., Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
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