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School bus drivers strike continues, but talks begin

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 2/14/2013, 12:58 p.m.

School bus drivers around New York City are still on strike and talks with the city are moving at a glacial pace.

On Monday, ATU Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello and ATU leaders from Washington, D.C., met with school bus drivers at Gracie Mansion. While New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg provided the union with a place to meet and a mediator, former Judge Milton Mollen, Bloomberg wasn't there himself. Cordiello said that Bloomberg's presence is just as important. Bloomberg, to this point, has refused to negotiate with the strikers.

"While this meeting was a step in the right direction, we continue to believe that Mayor Bloomberg has a responsibility to take part in these discussions and join us at the table," said Cordiello in a statement. "Despite what the mayor and his administration have said, his involvement in the process is not only completely legal, but is necessary to move toward a resolution and end this strike."

As part of the deal involving the city having private companies bid for new contracts, Local 1181 wanted any bids the city received from private entities to include the Employee Protection Provision (EPP), which ensures union members' job security. The union also stated that it would ensure having veteran drivers who know how to deal with the children, the routes and the families.

With the rising costs of transporting kids to and from school, New York City taxpayers currently shell out $7,000 per passenger annually to the tune of $1.1 billion total. Both parties are still waiting to hear the National Labor Relations Board's ruling on the strike's legality. As of press time, no ruling was made.

And while the strike has made things that much harder on parents, an advocacy group called Parents to Improve School Transportation is siding with Cordiello in requesting that Bloomberg show up at the bargaining table. In a statement, the organization said that Bloomberg thinks this is a deal between the drivers and the bus companies, but to them it involves the city as well.

"The union and even the companies are saying talks are pretty pointless without the city being at the table," the statement read. "Meanwhile, buses are going out without properly certified matrons."

Several bus companies have begun to use replacement drivers to deal specifically with special needs students who need to get to school. Some bus company owners, like Atlantic Express owner Dominick Gatto, have told outlets like news radio station 1010 WINS, "The DOE is demanding that we fulfill our contracts. We have no choice."

Reports have striking school bus drivers and matrons shouting at the replacements and calling them scabs. Last week in Brooklyn, it was reported that the tires of 11 school buses owned by Reliant Transportation were slashed right after news broke that their company would hire replacement drivers to transport kids to and from school.