Union members voted to strike after city officials announced that Employee Protection Provisions that were won in a hard-fought strike 34 years ago were now “illegal.” The strike ended with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose term expires in the fall, refusing to budge an inch.
Under the provisions, private companies the city hires to run all the school bus routes have to hire laid-off workers with seniority and wages intact before hiring off the street, regardless of which company workers were laid off from. Without the provisions bus companies competing for the contracts face more pressure and new opportunities to drive down wages and benefits.
In December, the Department of Education began soliciting contract bids without the provisions for 1,100 of the 7,700 school routes. School officials said they could save $99 million a year on the new bids.
ATU International President Larry Hanley had been in talks with the five leading Democratic Party contenders for the upcoming mayoral race to figure out a way to end the strike.
In a Feb. 15 phone conference with the Local 1181 membership, Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello cited a Feb. 14 letter signed by the five candidates—Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former Comptroller William Thompson and former City Council member Sal Albanese—as the main reason the local executive board had decided to end the strike. Union members did not vote on the decision.
The five prospective mayors called on the bus workers to “return to their jobs and continue the battle in other ways.” They promised if elected “to revisit” the contracts “to insure that the important job security, wages and benefits of your members are protected within the bidding process, while at the same time are fiscally responsible for taxpayers.”
“Bloomberg’s like a dictator, he thinks everything should be his way,” Maria Filgueira, a driver at Grandpa’s bus company, said in a Feb. 19 phone interview. “They say we’ll have a better chance with the next administration. How do they know that? There’s not much difference between a Democrat and a Republican. No matter who you vote for, you lose.”
Lost the battle, but war continues“What can we do? We lost the battle, but the war is still on,” Rainbow bus driver Wirman David Lopez told the Militant by phone Feb. 17. “Bloomberg has no heart. But we are not defeated. We have to show him we’re still standing.”
“I have mixed emotions about ending the strike,” Noemia Topete, a bus attendant in the Bronx, said. “I think if you call out a strike you should stay firm.”
While 8,800 workers belong to ATU Local 1181, more than 3,000 belonging to Teamsters Local 854, United Craft and Industrial Workers Union Local 91 or United Service Workers Union Local 355 crossed the picket lines pretty much from the start. Some bus companies are not organized by any union.
During the first week of the strike, at least 5,380 out of 7,700 routes were not running. But city officials and bus company owners succeeded in getting hundreds more buses on the road as the strike continued.
Even before the strike was over three bus companies sued to have the protection provisions immediately removed from their contracts. The first day at work after the strike, Joseph Fazzia, owner of three bus companies, fired more than 100 bus attendants, reported the New York Post.
Despite an onslaught of malicious press, especially in the Post and Daily News, painting strikers as selfish and indifferent to the needs of school children and their families, the Journal had to admit that many working people in the city sympathized with the strike.
“Before the strike, the union reps came by and asked us of all the issues on the table in the negotiations, which one can you live without,” Topete said. “But we need our Employee Protection Provisions, we need our pensions, we need our benefits. One is not more important than the other.”
“I’m not happy about ending the strike,” said Irma Burgos, a driver at Atlantic Express. “It doesn’t resolve anything. What we did in the strike helped us understand that it’s not only our union at risk, it’s all the other unions too,” she said.
Lea Sherman contributed to this article.
Anti-labor outfit targets bus workers’ union
Solidarity with school bus workers!
On the Picket Line
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