The drama of the city’s school bus strike officially ended more than a week ago—but you wouldn’t know it at my kid’s bus stop.
When the bus drivers’ union called off the strike last week, my sympathy for its members—who had lost nearly a month’s pay and gained almost nothing—was mixed with relief at the prospect of finally getting to work on time. My 6-year-old goes to school three miles and a tricky subway ride from our home in Brooklyn. I have a job in Manhattan. The school bus is the magic that allows those realities to coexist.
My relief was doomed to a short life: We waited at our regular stop that day, but the bus never came. It didn’t show up the next day either, nor the next. When the bus finally did appear at our stop—six days after the strike was over—it had a new driver, who looked to be reading directions off the back of an envelope. He seemed like a nice guy, if a little bewildered to be navigating a neighborhood he didn’t know with a bus full of kids, but he couldn’t say whether he’d continue to be assigned to the route. I can’t say either, because the bus skipped our stop again the next day.
Our afternoon route is also being driven by someone new. My son says he makes funny jokes, but I don’t think he was joking when he had to ask the 5th-graders for directions. A neighbor said his kids arrived home an hour late last week after the driver got lost and had to go back to the school.
Another neighbor, who’s been diligent about calling the bus company and the city, was told by a Department of Education rep that both of our drivers were “replaced” because of the strike. The rep agreed that the situation was terrible, but said the city has no control over who the bus companies hire and fire—strange, as my neighbor points out, since the city is paying those companies more than $1 billion per year.
There seems to be no solid count of how many people are still locked out of their jobs, now that the strike is done. One advocacy group, Parents to Improve Student Transportation (PIST), says that close to 110 employees were told not to come back to work at two of the city’s largest bus operators. The World Socialist Web Site posted interviews with drivers who report lockouts at other companies. There was wider coverage on the 100 Brooklyn-based matrons who were let go by Canal Escorts. Those technically can’t be called firings, since the owner shut down the company. The matrons were told they could reapply for jobs at companies operated by the same owner—where they’d be covered by a union that didn’t participate in the strike.
What does seem evident is that my son’s bus drivers—competent, experienced guys who were nice to the kids and got them to school on time—exercised their legal right to strike and ended up without jobs. That’s not right.
Nor is it right to try to fix the broken economics of the city’s busing system by pushing down the wages of the people we entrust with the safety of our kids. Even if the math worked, the morality doesn’t.
Update: On March 1 PIST, along with parents of children whose buses come from two companies that have continued using strike replacements instead of rehiring the fully certified drivers and matrons, will gather to address the press before delivering a letter to the Legislative Office of NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
DATE: Friday March 1, 2013
TIME: 12 noon
PLACE: 250 Broadway, Manhattan, west side of City Hall park
Here's the text of the letter:
February 27, 2013
To: New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn:
From: Parents, grandparents, and advocates for students who ride school buses
According to the NYC Department of Education website, Chancellor Walcott advised the
school bus companies after the strike that the expectation was that “All employees should be
contacted to report to work and all certifications should be up to date.” (See
However from that time until today, there are dozens of replacement drivers taking the
jobs of experienced drivers and matrons at the Rainbow/All American/Citywide companies
owned by Mrs. Ray L. Fouche and at Tufaro Buses owned by Joe Tufaro.
We are aware that the Department’s Contracts Division authorized companies to hire ‘an
extra driver in lieu of an escort’ for ‘one month or until the strike has ended, if that is sooner’ (see
attached). There is no excuse for students, especially those who use wheelchairs, to receive
second-class treatment now that the people with expertise are available to work.
In the interest of safety, efficiency and a return to normalcy, we say the fully certified,
experienced, familiar matrons and drivers should be reassigned to the routes they had before the
strike. In the case of students with IEPs, we know that the service of transportation with an
attendant who is trained in the needs of students with disabilities is a mandate under civil rights
laws such as IDEA.
The above named companies' possible violations of this and other federal laws—such as
the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) which requires companies with
more than a hundred workers to give 60-day notice before closing a plant or enacting mass
layoffs—must be addressed. New York State has similar laws for companies with fifty or more
As one of New York’s Democratic candidates for mayor who have expressed support for
the school bus union and the importance of seniority hiring, you belong in the lead of an
investigation of these violations. As Speaker of the City Council, you are in a position to propose
emergency legislation that would give the city enforcement powers, i.e., a WARN Act with teeth.
Parents to Improve School Transportation along with:
Kathy Kline, parent of child on Rainbow bus
Doug Henwood, parent at Brooklyn New School
Liza Featherstone, parent of child on Rainbow bus
Margaret DePaula, retired special educator, wheelchair advocate
Milagros Cancel, mother of three bus children, Bronx PIST organizer
Fatima Prioleau, mother of six, youngest rides a wheelchair bus
Susan Valdes DaPena, bus parent; Steering Committee member, The Child School
Rosa Maria de la Torre, parent of a former bus student
Sara Catalinotto, bus parent; Penn South Parents Committee member
And others (list in formation as of 2/27/2013)
Cc: NYCDOE Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm
NYCDOE Contracts and Purchasing Executive Director David N. Ross
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott
Mr. Joseph Tufaro
Mrs. Ray L. Fouche