"It is going to be chaotic," Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott warned this morning as public school bus drivers went on strike for the first time in more than 30 years. "It is going to be traumatic." Mostly for the parents of about 152,000 kids, including 54,000 with special needs, who use bus service to get to school. Today, they were forced to brave the bureaucratic tangles of free MetroCards, government reimbursements, and car pools. And it might be this way for a while.
Drivers want job protections for veteran employees included in new contracts that the city says a recent court ruling bars them from providing. "We couldn't change our mind and cave if we wanted to," said Mayor Bloomberg today, while reps for the drivers from Local 1811 of the Amalgamated Transit Union say the issue is being oversimplified. MSNBC and NBC New York have rundowns of the specifics.
"How could it be illegal to put experienced bus drivers and matrons on the school bus?" said Local 1811 president Michael Cordiello. "For him to make the remark that this is draining the city's funds is ridiculous," he said, noting that drivers are paid $14 an hour to start. "He has put our back to the wall. We have no choice but to fight for our jobs."
Parents care less about the issues than the inconvenience, the New York Times reports from the front lines: "I feel bad about what the bus drivers are going through," one mom said this morning. "But I'm losing pay in order to accommodate what's going on." Another mother "said that she had not learned enough about the strike to determine whether she supported it but that she hoped it ends soon."
In 1979, the last time this happened, the strike went on for thirteen weeks. By that point, parents might be on strike, too, leaving the city's children to really fend for themselves.