On Tuesday, 8,000 unionized New York City school bus drivers went on strike.The bus drivers are demanding that once their contracts expire in June, their needs remain met. While the contract renewal might lead to dramatic job losses, members of Local 1181 views the change as an opportunity to partake in negotiations and protect their jobs as well as their wages.
In a press conference last night, Mayor Bloomberg stated that he plans to open bid on bus contracts to “reduce costs and adapt to a changed school system.” What this means for the bus drivers is that their jobs are at risk, and they might be subject to reduction of wages. As Bloomberg’s plans develop and the bus system is reshuffled, unionized workers are demanding an Employee Protection Provision in their contract. This clause would grant them their current salary with their future employers.
For decades, there have been many underlying problems with the city’s school bus system. According to the New York Times, the system is one of the most expensive in the country. The city pays $7,000/year for each student to ride the bus. In contrast, Chicago spends $5,000, Los Angeles spends $3,500, and Miami $1,000. Proportionally, these prices are unreasonable.
These astronomical expenditures stem mainly from two root causes. The first is the city’s desire to “embrace anticompetitive measures” and contract with multiple bus companies, regardless of those companies’ practices (according to that same NYTimes article). Many of these companies, though, have partaken in unlawful practices, including organized crime and bribery. The second problem with the bus system is that new local and federal education policies that have increased options of schools (“school choice”) and number of days in a school year. The costs of driving students longer distances for more days has resulted in $1.1 billion annually!
Much of the strike’s media coverage has portrayed bus drivers as vindictive and insensitive individuals. Undeniably, the strike has impacted many children: NPR reported that 152,000 students were forced to find another way to school in the past day. Many parents were required to take their children to school and were consequently late to work. While children and parents are definitely impacted by the strike, it is necessary to think about the livelihoods of the bus drivers and their right to organize for job security.
We at UHAB stand in solidarity with the bus drivers, and respect their organizing efforts as a means to improve their quality of life. We hope that the city upholds workers rights in this unstable and corrupt contracting system. While we recognize that student and parents’ routines have been rattled, we also believe that the structural and financial outcomes of this strike will make up for these losses. We hope that this strike will inspire New Yorkers to continue empowering our unions and enhancing New York City’s economy.