|Wirman David Lopez|
|Contingent of Boston bus drivers joins Feb. 2 march in New York to support striking school bus workers. City officials and bus companies want to bust union, drive down wages, benefits.|
Two dozen school bus drivers from Boston, members of the Steelworkers union, made the 200-mile trip to the city Feb. 2. They joined a rally of about 300 strikers, parents, and other supporters, followed by a car caravan that drove past New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s residence and then visited two picket lines in the Bronx. The caravan was organized by Parents to Improve School Transportation.
“It doesn’t matter what state you live in,” Fred Floreal, one of the Boston drivers, told the Militant. “Their cause is our cause.”
“Unions all over the world are one union,” said Michael Bonnet, a Boston driver who is originally from Haiti. “There’s a lot of struggles in Haiti. We know how to do this.”
The Boston contingent was welcomed by the strikers. “It means everything,” said Maribel Gonzalez, a bus attendant for 17 years. “It means we are not alone.”
The main issue in the strike is the plan of the city government and bus companies to eliminate Employee Protection Provisions, in place for 34 years, that they now claim are illegal.
The provisions require that companies that win contracts from the city government must first hire workers laid off from other companies in seniority order, with their pay and benefits intact. Strikers point out that without the master pick list they would essentially be temporary workers, put out on the street every time their route changes hands.
“In 2003 Varsity Transit closed down. I had worked there for 15 years,” said Luis Nieves. “They reopened under the name Varsity Bus Company. Since we had the EPP protections, I followed the work. Without that, the companies can just close down, open with another name, and hire workers for less money.”
Workers have already taken cuts over the years, Nieves added. “Now it takes six years to get to top pay, instead of the three years needed when I started. We have no sick days, and less vacation.”
The New York School Bus Contractors’ Coalition had filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board asking for an injunction. The bus company bosses argued the dispute is between the union and the city government, making the strike an illegal “secondary boycott.” Bloomberg, however, insists it is between the bus companies and the union.
On Feb. 1, the NLRB ruled the strike legal and stated that both the companies and the Board of Education are “primary employers.”
Some 2,800 of 7,700 bus routes are now running, 110 more than the week before, Board of Education spokeswoman Marge Feinberg told the Wall Street Journal Feb. 3. Among those crossing the picket lines are many members of Teamsters Local 854, which represents 1,000 school bus workers.
Workers at nonunion companies as well as members of United Craft and Industrial Workers Union Local 91, which organizes workers at Logan Bus Co., are also crossing the picket lines. United Service Workers Union Local 355 is providing replacement workers for Staten Island Bus Company. Other struck companies are hiring scabs. Feinberg told the Journal that 49 new drivers and more than 200 attendants have been certified by the city.
Michael, an ATU member who asked his last name not be used, said many of the workers at Consolidated Bus Transit, where he works, are in the Teamsters and many of its buses are running. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said while picketing on Hermany Avenue in the Bronx Feb. 4. “We do the same job and what happens to us is going to happen to them.”
Michael said Consolidated sent letters to ATU members offering to hire them if they switched to the Teamsters. “But at much less money and only part time,” he said. “You’d lose everything—salary, benefits, seniority. So far no one has taken them up on it. You might as well just go look for another job.”
While this reporter was on the Hermany Avenue picket line, the police came and made workers extinguish a small fire they had going in an oil drum to keep warm in the subfreezing weather.
At the Zerega Avenue Bronx picket line in front of Reliant Transportation Inc., ATU 1181 President Michael Cordello and United Federation of Teachers representative José Vargas spoke after the caravan arrived. “This is not just about the school bus workers,” Vargas said. “The mayor is trying to break the unions.”
“The public is with us, other unions are with us, and the truth is with us,” Cordiello said. He said the ATU is expanding picket lines at the Board of Education.
A citywide march on Feb. 10 will start at 12:30 p.m. at Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza and end at City Hall.
Seth Galinsky, Deborah Liatos and Candace Wagner contributed to this article.
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