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Union Claims City Turned Down Offer To End School Bus Strike

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TWC News: Union Claims City Turned Down Offer To End School Bus Strike
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As the city's school bus strike enters its third week, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 union says the city turned down an offer that may have ended the walkout. NY1's Vivian Lee filed the following report.

Union leaders with school bus drivers' Local 1181 brought in the big guns Wednesday morning, inviting the president of the union's parent, Amalgamated Transit International, to a news conference.

He urged parents to contact Mayor Michael Bloomberg and pressure him to allow job protection for unionized workers in any new contracts awarded by the city to bus companies.

The mayor refuses to allow job protection in city contracts, pointing to a court ruling two years ago that found the provision illegal in some contracts. But the union says that doesn't apply here.

"We hope that you, the press, will get the story out to the people," said Larry Hanley of Amalgamated Transit Union International.

Mediated talks between the union and a coalition of employers went nowhere earlier this week, and the union suggested a cooling-off period of as many as 90 days. During that time, drivers would go back to work, but only if the city slowed down the bidding process for the bus routes.

"We don't know why that would be rejected," said Michael Cordiello, president of Local 1181. "We think it's a viable way to end the strike."

The union says the cooling off period would allow all sides to take a closer look at administrative costs, the size of the bus fleet and what it calls an inefficient network of bus routes as reasons behind soaring costs.

But a spokeswoman with the mayor's office disagrees.

"Postponing the bids would guarantee that the same billion-dollar contracts we have now stay in place next year," a statement from the mayor's office reads, in part. "The union is irresponsibly holding our students and city hostage."

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, one of the bus companies sent a letter urging striking workers to return. Pioneer Transportation warned that if they don't, they will lose their company health benefits on Friday. And Pioneer said they could soon lose any chance of ever getting back to work, either because other companies take over the bus routes or because permanent replacement workers take over their jobs.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he believes the companies are within their rights.

"The companies are trying to do their job because they're not getting paid, and unfortunately, the workers are not getting paid," Walcott said. "I saw one of the letters, and he was very clear in saying they should come back to work because I think starting this Friday, they will not have health benefits or payment into their pension fund as well."

This comes as Department of Education officials say that District 75 schools, which serve special needs students, had their highest attendance rate Wednesday since the beginning of the strike.

According to the DOE, 73.4 percent of District 75 students attended class Wednesday, compared with 90.5 percent of all city public school students overall.

DOE officials also say 19 more bus routes ran Wednesday morning than on Tuesday.

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