Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization
Supports NYC School Bus Drivers Strike to
Protect the Safety of School Children
On January 16th some 8,800 school bus drivers, attendants (often called matrons), and mechanics who belong to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 went on strike after city and school officials declared their protection provisions are now “illegal” and can’t be part of future contracts the city has with private bus companies. Instead of hiring workers directly, the New York City government contracts private companies to bid on routes. At least 1,100 routes, including those for students with special needs, are up for bid this year.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and School’s Chancellor Denis Walcott have painted the strikers and their union as holding students, who depend on school bus transport, hostage out of selfishness and greed. But workers explain that at the heart of this fight is the right to maintain employee protections that enable workers to keep their jobs when bus routes pass from one contractor to another.
The workers get no paid sick days, work only 40 weeks of the year and are forced to collect unemployment the other 12 weeks of the year, which provides less than half their salary. The workers say they are open to the bidding process but they insist that the EPP be a part of the bid in order to protect long-term employees.
A growing number of parents of New York City school children are voicing their support for the school bus drivers and matrons. They say it is the Mayor and the Chancellor who are holding school children hostage. They says that the Employee Protection Provisions or EPP guarantee that our children will be supervised by experienced and skilled workers and that the safety and security of the children safely transporting children back and forth to school is the top priority. And the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) agrees.
IFCO joins the workers and the parents of New York City school children in their demand for better conditions for the education and transportation of students with and without disabilities.
We join the workers and the parents in refusing to accept “cost cutting” as a reason to force children onto long, twisted bus routes that stop at too many schools; routes that make many children miss school breakfast, classes and related services. Our school children should not be denied legally mandated transportation accommodations—such as limited time travel and climate control—that cause kids with special needs to arrive physically and mentally drained to school and home. These children deserve adequate equipment on wheelchair buses as well as well trained bus crews.
Hard working parents entrust these bus crews with the saftety and welfare of their precious children. We can demand no less. But unfortunately goverment authorities -- from Governor Cuomo to Mayor Bloomberg to Chancellor Walcott -- are attempting to establish contracts for over a thousand routes without the job protection and related benefits that all bus workers have had for more than thirty years.
Opponents of the bus drivers and matrons argue that this strike is illegal and that these workers are making unfair requests…..this is simply factually incorrect.
It is a fact that some students really need yellow bus services to get to school! Metrocards and taxis are not realistic solutions for most families. Even Access-a-Ride drivers can’t supervise and nurture children; besides, it takes 8 weeks to register.
It is a fact that the goal of the strike is reasonable. All ATU 1181 wants is to continue the seniority hiring list which provides job security for the most experienced school bus employees, with no change in pay or benefits. They simply want to ensure that they as working parents can ensure their employment to care for their families during this highly unstable working climate – nothing more, nothing less. Students and families also want safe, dedicated, knowledgeable bus crews!
It is a fact that the strike is legal. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in Spring 2012 that the City of New York is not a third party to the contracts.
It is a fact that Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Education had a choice to either include or exclude Employee Protection Provisions (EPP) in bidding, and chose to exclude it. The claim that EPP is illegal is an excuse to cheat the children and workers out of decent standards.
This struggle, at its most basic level, is a fight about justice. The reality is that without Employee Protection Provisions, the workers may lose their wages, their benefits and possibly their jobs.
As a faith-based organization commited to the attainment of civil and human rights and grassroots social change, IFCO stands in solidarity with the school bus workers and the parents in this struggle. When injustice and indignity can longer be tolerated, people wil rise up and engage in struggle to correct those conditions. It is this unbreakable spirit that we at IFCO honor and support.
In 1955 when it came time to launch the Montgomery bus boycott Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., declared that there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. He said there comes a time when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. He went on to say there comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life's July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November.
Fifty-eight years later, once again, we have arrived at that time. As people of faith we join the stikers and the parents of New York City school children in adopting the weapon of protest to call attention to this injustice.
It is time to stop blaming the workers for defending themselves.
The workers are not calling for a raise. They are not calling for an increase in benefits. They are simply calling for job security and a system that provides for the safety and well-being of school children. IFCO joins them in that call.
We join parents in calling on Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Cuomo, and Chancellor Walcott to show some care for the children NOW by negotiating to extend EPP into the 2013-2017 school busing contracts so the strike can end.
Safe busing, and educational civil rights—now and in the future— depend on this first step.
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