Officials from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, the school bus employees' union that has been on strike now for three weeks to secure job protections, told reporters this morning that the mayor has deliberately misinformed the public about bus workers' wages.
The ATU officials claim that while city officials have complained about the currently billion-dollar yearly budget for school busing, drivers' salaries have decreased 1 percent in 30 years, when adjusted for inflation.
The union leaders also claim say that with the doubling of the population of special needs students, there have been an increased number of routes for this relatively smaller group of children.
The ATU members said these routes often bring children outside the city or state and that a bus route will only carry a few special needs students.
The three-week bus strike has affected routes for more than 150,000 students in the five boroughs, and there seems no end in sight as ATU members want the city to include Employee Protection Provisions (EPPs) in their bus contracts to guarantee that senior employees keep their jobs.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and other city employees counter that the state Court of Appeals previously ruled that EPPs are illegal to include in labor contracts.
Union officials accused the mayor of scheming to remove the protections, misinforming the public and union busting.
"This is a strike of choice by [Bloomberg]. This is a fight that he chose to have, not one that he had to have. Again, he has used misguiding facts, similar to what George Bush did to get us into that war [with Iraq]," said an ATU official.
"The mayor said he doesn't have to negotiate with us. The Department of Education under the mayor is firing our people, they hire our people, they discipline our people," said ATU Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello.
Meanwhile, some striking school bus drivers who work for the Pioneer Transportation company may have a new incentive to get back to work, as they will lose their health benefits tomorrow if they do not return to work.
Pioneer Transportation officials sent out a letter yesterday reminding drivers of the loss of coverage.
It also warns drivers are at risk of losing their jobs for good, either to replacement workers, or because other companies may take over the routes.
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. And so I saw one of the letters and he was very clear saying they should come back to work because I think starting this Friday, they will not have health benefits or payment into their pension as well."
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 says it asked Mayor Michael Bloomberg to delay the bidding process for new bus contracts, so all sides could have time to negotiate.
The union says drivers would have gone back to work while the talks took place.
City officials say postponing the bids would only have meant it would be stuck with the same billion-dollar contracts for another year.