Brooklyn Boro

Crisis Averted: Deal struck with local school bus drivers

Nov. 1 Walkout Was A Spooky Proposition For Brooklyn Parents

October 31, 2016 By James Harney Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Shown are school buses parked in the Red Hook lot of Jofaz Transportation Co. Drivers and attendants have voted to authorize a Nov. 1 strike that could inconvenience more than 12,000 NYC schoolchildren and their parents.  Eagle photo by James Harney
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UPDATE: Unionized school bus drivers and attendants for Jofaz Transportation and Y&M Transit reached a tentative contract agreement with the companies’ management late Monday, averting a walkout that could have sent thousands of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island schoolchildren and their parents scrambling for alternative ways to get to school.

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As a strike by nearly 900 school bus drivers and attendants loomed Monday, angry parents of more than 12,000 city schoolchildren who could be inconvenienced are uniting under a banner they’ve dubbed PIST (Parents to Improve School Transportation).

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Teamsters Local 553 drivers and attendants for Red Hook-based Jofaz Transportation and Y&M Transit, incensed at the bus companies’ contract proposals to cut five of their paid holidays and make them pay their own health care costs, voted overwhelmingly last Wednesday to authorize a Nov. 1 walkout if the impasse is not resolved.

Under an expiring contract, the drivers earned an average of $17.50 an hour, while attendants made an average of $11 per hour. But that pact covered health care costs, and it is unclear how much the companies would take out of the workers’ paychecks under a new agreement.

The city Department of Education contracts with Jofaz and Y&M to transport some 12,000 public school students and 2,500 private school students to and from schools along 600 routes in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Saturday that in the event of a strike, the city will offer free MetroCards to students on affected school bus routes, or would reimburse parents for what they spend on carfare to get their children to school.

“If there are situations where taxis or car services or other options don’t work,” the mayor added, “we will make every accommodation we can for those kids.”

But on Tuesday, PIST parents came down solidly on the side of the drivers and attendants, blasting the bus companies for “penny pinching” and saying they feel “sold out” by the city.

“There is no substitute for safe, on-time, professional busing by trained, experienced drivers and attendants who are actual service providers for students with disabilities under federal civil rights law,” said PIST founder Sara Catalinotto.

“[The Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation] alleged plan to offset individual carfare during a strike is no solution,” she added. “Very few parents can even make those extra trips without neglecting their jobs or their other children.”

Catalinotto concluded that “the least Mayor de Blasio can do is press the owner to spend wisely on this workforce. The only obstacle to the buses rolling on Tuesday is the owner of Y&M and Jofaz trying to keep a big cut of taxpayer money while the workers [and riders] suffer.”

The parents’ group said that while they hoped a strike will be averted, they were prepared to support the workers if they did walk off the job.

“New York boasts a minimum $15 an hour for anyone working under a city contract,” said a woman who identified herself only as Fatima, and is the mother of a student who rides a bus serving wheelchair-bound passengers. “The attendants at Y&M and Jofaz are only making two-thirds of that, despite these companies getting all their income from the Department of Education.”

Jofaz and Y&M have generated their share of negative press. According to a PIX11 News report, earlier this year, a Brooklyn mother said her daughter, who has autism, was left in the pouring rain without supervision after being dropped off at school 30 minutes early by a Y&M school bus.

Rasheeda White told PIX11 that her 11-year-old daughter Ciane requires 24-hour supervision, but was left alone at 7:15 a.m. outside the school, which doesn’t open its doors until 7:45.

Other than being thoroughly soaked, the girl was unharmed, but White fumed that “anything could have happened between that time. She could have been abducted.”

Y&M had no comment in response to that report, but Education Department spokeswoman Toya Holness said at the time the agency was “investigating this very serious allegation and will ensure that it’s addressed appropriately.”

And back in 2008, Jofaz Transportation owner Joseph Fazzia was charged with making false statements to FBI investigators probing corruption inside the allegedly organized crime-connected union that at the time was representing school bus drivers.

Fazzia denied making payments to the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 1181, but according to reports, the union’s president, Salvatore Battaglia, pleaded guilty to taking payoffs and said several bus company owners had made regular payments to his union for decades.

 


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