The union representing school bus drivers may, or may not, be preparing to go on strike. City Hall is taking no chances. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott unveiled a well-thought-out contingency plan last week to accommodate the needs of more than 150,000 public school students who rely on buses to get to and from class.
Leaders of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union won’t say whether or not—or when—they will walk off the jobs. The local’s president, Michael Cordiello, won’t rule out the possibility, but insisted that the union has no plans for such an action. City Hall has made it clear that it cannot offer the job guarantees that the union is seeking. (The drivers work for private companies whose work force is unionized. Companies have said they may go to court to block a strike.)
Let’s be clear about what’s at stake: the union wants seniority-based job protections for drivers who transport preschool students in special education classes. At the city’s urging, Governor Cuomo two months ago vetoed a bill that would have extended those protections—the governor noted that the State Court of Appeals ruled that such protections would drive up the cost of transportation and would have a chilling effect on competition.
City Hall officials have supported those protections in the past, not because they thought the rules were fair, but because they feared the very sort of job action that seems imminent. But City Hall changed its position over the summer, and rightfully so.
The union is now in the position of arguing that the rights of school children, including those in special education class, are less important than work rules that are clearly outdated, inefficient and simply wrong. It would be interesting to hear union officials make that case.
City Hall has been quick to respond to and prepare for a strike that Mayor Bloomberg described as both “illegal” and “outrageous.” The Department of Education spent more than $1 million on Metrocards, which will be handed out to students and parents in case there is no bus service. The agency also has prepared a set of rules and guidelines in the event of a strike. For example, students would not be charged with tardiness if they arrive in school up to two hours late.
The city’s high-profile preparations for a strike may cause the union to think twice about moving forward with a foolish job action in defense of indefensible work rules. Public-employee unions have shown that common sense can, on occasion, prevail in labor-management relations. Perhaps the private-sector drivers will take notice.