School Daze: A bus drivers’ strike could cut off transportation to thousands of students
Union Workers at Two Brooklyn-Based Bus Companies Vote Overwhelmingly to Authorize a Nov. 1 Walkout
School bus drivers and attendants at two of the largest bus companies in the city voted overwhelmingly Wednesday night to authorize a strike that could begin Tuesday, Nov. 1 and affect thousands of schoolchildren in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens.
The Teamsters Local 553 members at Jofaz Transportation and Y&M Transit who participated in the balloting voted 85 percent in favor of a walkout if a contract impasse over reduced holidays and increased health care costs is not resolved by Tuesday.
The Department of Education contracts with Jofaz and Y&M, both based in Red Hook, to run about 600 school bus routes, providing transportation for special education and general education students in the three boroughs. If a strike happens, about 900 workers would be involved.
“These are workers that we entrust with the safety of our children, but starting wages for school bus attendants aren’t much higher than minimum wage,” said Local 553 Secretary-Treasurer Demos Demopoulos.
“To increase the health care costs for these workers, many of whom are single mothers, is patently unfair. We are willing to strike to get justice for these school bus workers, but we hope it doesn’t come to that,” Demopoulos said.
The workers are also opposed to a company plan to take away five holidays, citing the city’s new Paid Sick Days law, which requires five paid sick days at all businesses.
“To say I shouldn’t get holiday pay for Thanksgiving, or for [Martin Luther King] Day, just because I called out when I was sick? That is so disrespectful,” said Lisa Cilone, a school bus driver for Jofaz.
Demopoulos said union officials decided to extend the contract twice after it expired in June in hopes of reaching an agreement and avoiding a strike, “but [the DOE] has been unwilling to sign a fair contract.”
In a statement released Thursday, Education Department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said, “We are disappointed with this outcome and working to swiftly address concerns of students, families and educators.
“We have contingency plans in place — either a MetroCard for students and families or alternate bus service — to ensure transportation options for students,” she added. “We expect this to be resolved soon with an agreement that works for employees, families and students to ensure a safe and reliable ride to school.”
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