Thursday, December 18, 2014

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Standoff Continues Through School Bus Strike's Second Day

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Parents for a second day are scrambling to figure out alternatives for tens of thousands of students as a standoff between striking school bus drivers and aides looking for job protections and a city administration that says they just can't have it continues with no end in sight.

All 8,800 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 walked off the job Wednesday.

The city says overall attendance was just below average yesterday, but among special needs students, attendance was down about 30 percent.

The union says it is digging in its heels over the issue of employee protection provisions.

The union disagrees with the city's contention that offering the job protections is illegal.

There are no talks taking place and Mayor Michael Bloomberg says students may have to "learn to live" with new drivers, a sentiment the union says it finds insensitive and disappointing.

"I hope this does not last a long time, but it's not going to last more than June, because that's the end of the school year," Bloomberg told reporters Wednesday.

"Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Walcott, please come negotiate with us. Put the EPP's back in the bid. Protect the workers that have the experience. Protect the children of New York, you can do it. Please come forward and end the strike, it's in your hands," said ATU Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello.

The strike is impacting some parents at the Mark Twain School for the Talented and Gifted in Coney Island whose children lost their yellow school bus service. Those parents and grandparents said they are losing their patience.

"I am sick, but I must go to pick my grandson [up], because I worry," said one parent. "How can he get home by himself? Eleven years."

"My message is, make a compromise very fast, because it's a big problem to the kid and the parent, too."

A few blocks away from the school, on Neptune Avenue and 20th Street, workers were on the picket lines in front of a bus depot. They were chanting for job security.

There was also a steady flow of yellow school buses that drove by the picket lines and honked for support.

"Some of them beep us because they're with us but they can't say," said Vivian Mcglynn, a bus driver. "What are you going to do? They have children on the bus. We're not going to bother them. We would prefer if they came out with us, but we understand that they would lose their jobs."

Mcglynn said leaving employee protection clauses out of the city's request for new bus contracts puts students in danger.

"Where does the experience come in?" she said. "If you always have new people, then you have people with no experience. Then you're in it for the money."

Mcglynn told NY1 that if the picketing drivers lose their jobs to replacement drivers, they would have to get food stamps and collect unemployment.

At the Meredith Avenue school bus depot on Staten Island, striking workers were out in full force Thursday morning. They say while they realize there are inconveniences for parents and students, they too are facing burdens.

"[Job] security is a main factor. I mean, how are we supposed to live? We're not making a lot of money," said one school bus employee.

"It's very hard. I need money because I pay a mortgage, I pay bills, I pay everything," said another school bus employee.

While there were some concerns of possible flare-ups between strikers and non-strikers, the situation on Staten Island was peaceful, though some on the picket line said they resented the mayor calling some strikers reprehensible after reports they had briefly stood in the way of buses.

"No one here gets rowdy. We all have a peaceful point to make. No one is stopping anyone from rolling out here that is not union," said Julio Echevarria, a union-represented school bus driver.

Drivers striking at Neptune Avenue said there were no such incidents there. They said all they want to do is get their message out peacefully.

Bus companies say they are trying to bring in replacement drivers, but that could take weeks.

They also filed unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board to force drivers back to work.

City residents who have a disabled child and are looking for a new way to get them to school because of the strike may be able to get help from Access-A-Ride.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it's willing to accommodate special needs students who need rides to and from school, but on a conditional basis.

Parents interested in scheduling a pickup for their child can call Access-A-Ride at 877-337-2017.

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