New York City officials are preparing for a possible school bus strike that would affect more than 150,000 students, citing a dispute over contracts with the drivers' union.
City officials say the union representing the school bus drivers has been pushing back against the Department of Education's new procedure of bidding out multi-year contracts on bus routes. The union says it is concerned about job security.
The possible strike in question was triggered by the DOE's request for bids on a contract for 1,100 bus routes serving 22,500 special needs children in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to Mayor Bloomberg. The current contracts on those routes expire June 30 and they do not guarantee jobs for certain current drivers.
While the routes being bid out now represent one-sixth of the DOE's 7,700 bus routes, the union is considering a citywide strike that would affect all of the 152,000 public school students using bus service.
Ed Gigliotti, vice president of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said there was no timeline or deadline for a possible strike, but said the union is "doing everything we can to avert a strike. We don't want a strike. We don't want to jeopardize the children."
"All we want is job security," he said.
In an op-ed for the Daily News Thursday, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the DOE could not legally guarantee jobs for drivers in any case because of a ruling by the state Court of Appeals last year stating such a provision could not be included.
Walcott added that the bidding includes the same safety provisions in the current contracts, which require that bus drivers are certified and have a certain number of hours of training and refresher courses.
"It’s the bus drivers union, not the city, that’s putting kids at risk," Walcott wrote.
Walcott said the city pays $1.1 billion each year for busing -- an average of $6,900 per student. By requesting new bids, he said, the DOE "hopes to achieve savings that can be spent in classrooms, where funding belongs and where it is needed most."
The city has not used significant competitive bidding for new yellow bus contracts since 1979, according to Bloomberg and Walcott.
In case of a strike, students will be able to get a temporary MetroCard through their school's general office, according to officials. Parents of children in grades kindergarten through second grade may request an additional MetroCard so that they can escort them to school.
Parents of children in grades kindergarten through sixth grade, and who live in areas where public transportation to school is not an option, may get reimbursed for transportation costs, whether they drive their children to school or use a taxi or car service. In either case, families are encourages to carpool.
In case of a strike, field trips using yellow bus service will be canceled, and afterschool programs will remain open but no busing will be provided, said Bloomberg.
Students who arrive at school late because of the strike will be excused for up to two hours. Students are unable to attend school because of the strike will be marked absent with an explanation code.
The union would not say if a strike is imminent.
"When the president calls it, we'll be there," said Gigliotti.
"We want to avoid a strike at all costs," said driver Daniel Gatto, a union representative. "But make no mistake about it, if that's the only card left in the deck for us, we'll play it."
Melissa Russo contributed to this story