Tens of thousands of families of children who ride yellow school buses in the five boroughs may have to find another way to get to school starting Wednesday morning, as the union representing drivers and matrons authorized a strike Monday.
The labor feud comes as the city is accepting bids on its first new busing contract in 33 years. The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 wants the city to include Employee Protection Provisions in its busing contracts.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are sticking to a previous ruling by the state Court of Appeals that forbids the city from including those protections.
While NY1 has learned that some buses for special needs students will run during the strike, city officials said the majority of bused students will have to find alternate ways of getting to school, bringing further interruptions to a school year already halted by Hurricane Sandy.
"The union is pitting a strike against our students and will hurt our students in the long run," Walcott said. "The students are the ones who will feel the impact."
Union leaders say they understand that the city want to cut costs but accuse Mayor Michael Bloomberg of doing it at the expense of middle-class families.
In his Midtown announcement on Monday evening, Michael Cordiello, the president of ATU Local 1181, said EPPs are not illegal and ensure children's safety, by providing experienced drivers for more than 7,700 yellow bus routes.
"I heard it said today that if we strike, we would be striking the children of the City of New York. In fact, we would be striking for the safety of the City of New York's children," Cordiello said.
The chancellor insisted Monday night that the Department of Education cannot negotiate over EPPs.
"They work for bus owners, they don't work for the city. So again, this is part of a bid that they have put out, that they want us to include something that the state Court of Appeals said cannot be included. So there isn't any negotiations taking place," Walcott said Monday night at a school in the Astoria section of Queens.
It comes as bus companies are responding to the strike with threats of legal action.
The bus companies have joined forces as the New York City School Bus Coalition. They say they will seek an injunction from the National Labor Relations Board and civil damages if the drivers walk off the job.
The coalition says in a statement, "We will do our very best to safely operate during the strike and call on the union to conduct peaceful and responsible picket lines."
In response to the union's decision to call a strike, Bloomberg also released a statement saying in part, "The union is abandoning 152,000 students and their families who rely on school bus service each day. We hope that the union will reconsider its irresponsible and misguided decision to jeopardize our students' education."
On Monday afternoon, the mayor spoke at City Hall, saying the demands being made by the union are "not about safety" but about job protections the city cannot legally offer.
"We have told the unions in unequivocal terms, do not walk out on our students," Bloomberg said. "A strike would not only be unfair to children and families, it would be totally misguided because the city cannot legally offer what unions are demanding."
Meanwhile, the city has a contingency plan if the strike happens.
Students who ride buses and parents of younger students will be able to receive MetroCards at their respective schools.
Parents who live too far from public transportation would be reimbursed 55 cents per mile if they drive their kids.
If they use a taxi or car service they will be reimbursed after filling out a form available at their child's school.
However, parents and students in P.S. 30 in the Jamaica section of Queens told NY1 on Monday evening that they wished that school officials and the bus drivers' union concerned more on children's needs.
"It will definitely affect our kids here at the school. We have a lot of children who take the school bus, and it's an important thing that they think about the children first, because they need to come to school, they need to come to class," said a parent. "They need to make up for the days we missed to the hurricane."
"If we can't go on the school bus, how are we going to get to school?" asked a student.
Department of Education officials say students who arrive at school late during the strike will be allowed a two-hour grace period.
Students unable to attend school because of yellow bus disruptions will be marked absent with an explanation code to ensure their attendance record is not affected.
After-school programs would continue, but field trips would be canceled.
The Office of Pupil Transportation will update its website on the latest bus strike info by 7 a.m. every day.