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School Bus Workers' Union Votes To End Strike; Drivers To Return To Work Wednesday

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School bus drivers who are part of ATU Local 1181 will return to work Wednesday after the union's executive board voted to suspend the five-week strike Friday.

ATU Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello announced the decision in a statement Friday.

Cordiello said in the statement that despite the strike's end, the union will continue to fight for the employee protection provisions, or EPPs, for senior drivers, which the union seeks to include in all future contracts.

“Though our strike has been suspended, the principles that we fight for remain pressing issues that the City will have to address," the statement reads. "The fact is, a safe workforce is an experienced workforce and the Employee Protection Provisions currently included in the City’s busing contracts protect our most experienced drivers, matrons, and mechanics – and have created one of the safest workforces in the entire country."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement Friday that he was pleased the strike ended.

"In the city’s entire history, the special interests have never had less power than they do today, and the end of this strike reflects the fact that when we say we put children first, we mean it," Bloomberg's statement read.

Bloomberg's statement also praised the work of the bus drivers and matrons.

"We appreciate the hard work our bus drivers and matrons do and we welcome them back to the job," the statement read.

The news comes as the five Democrats battling for City Hall signed on to a letter to urge the union to end the month-old strike and return to work.

The mayoral hopefuls said that, if elected, they would pledge to revisit the issues that led to the strike after the election.

The letter read, in part, "We continue to stand with you in your battle for job security and decent wages. At this time, however, with an intransigent administration....we call upon you and your members to return to their jobs and continue the battle in other ways. We know this is not an easy decision. But we pledge, if elected, to revisit the school bus transportation system and contracts."

"It was time to say, 'Enough,'" said former City Comptroller William Thompson, a candidate for mayor. "Hopefully, this can lead to workers and the union having that conversation, coming back to work, realizing we'll revisit this down the road."

"We need the buses to roll again, and our kids get back to school," said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a candidate for mayor. "One-third of our special ed kids haven't been able to go to school during the strike, and I've heard from parents all over the city about how much this is affecting them."

In a statement, ATU Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello thanked the candidates for their concerns.

"As Local 1181 further contemplates the direction this strike will take, a few things are decidedly clear: that Mayor Bloomberg has shown an alarming lack of leadership throughout this entire process, instead opting to divide our city. He has put the children, especially those who need the safety and experience that our membership provides the most, at risk."

Nearly 9,000 bus drivers, chaperones and mechanics have been on the picket line since January 16, stemming from a push to ensure that all new contracts include EPPs to safeguard the jobs of senior workers.

The city has argued it is illegal to offer such protections in contracts because it's the private companies that hire them.

On February 1, the National Labor Relations Board ruled the strike was lawful, and that the city is one of the bus employees' primary employers, along with the bus companies.

Union members who spoke to NY1 on Friday said they wouldn't be comfortable going back to work without some of the guarantees they sought when they went on strike in the first place.

"I wouldn't feel good about it," said bus driver Maria Gentile. "I think that eventually, if we do go back on the job, and they're not put in place, I think that we have, we're moving forward in a direction to put us where we need to be. Because people now know what 1181 is all about. They know that we're all about security and safety."

As a result of the strike, more than 150,000 students' bus service has been disrupted, roughly a third of whom are special needs students.

As a result, families have been forced to find alternate ways to get their children to school including car pools and reimbursed subway, bus and taxi trips.

Earlier this week, the city received and reviewed bids for new contracts on some of the city's bus routes.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott indicated in a statement Friday that this process will continue.

"Earlier this week, the City accepted the first bids on school bus contracts in more than 30 years, with the potential to cut costs, transfer the savings to classrooms and secure quality service from certified drivers and matrons for our students," Walcott's statement read. "This open, fair and competitive process is what our school system and city deserve and sets an important standard that we will continue to uphold."

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