School Buses Keep Rolling: 11th-hour pact averts strike by drivers, attendants
Bus Companies Agree to Keep Paying for Workers’ Health Care Costs
The union representing drivers and attendants for two of the city’s largest school bus companies reached a tentative contract agreement with management late Monday, averting a walkout that could have sent thousands of schoolchildren and their parents scrambling for alternative ways to get to school.
Negotiators for Teamsters Local 533 and Jofaz Transportation and Y&M Transit agreed on the tentative pact late Monday night, keeping some 900 workers on the job transporting an estimated 12,000 schoolkids 600 routes in the three boroughs.
Under the agreement, the employers will continue to provide health care at no cost to employees, a key provision for union members, many of whom are single mothers.
Union leaders said the proposed new contract would be submitted to their membership for a ratification vote, but as the buses kept rolling without interruption Tuesday morning, the initial reaction was positive.
“When workers stand together, they can win good jobs for their coworkers and their families,” said Local 553 Secretary-Treasurer Demos Demopoulos. “We will continue working with our allies in the labor movement to raise standards in the school bus industry.”
Lisa Cilone, a school bus driver for Jofaz, said she was “so thankful to win a contract that protects our health care. We are proud of the work we do. This job is important and school bus employees should be fairly compensated.”
Jofaz and Y&M share the same owner and the same union contract. The city Department of Education (DOE) contracts with the companies to provide special education and general education pupil transport in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
Under the contract that was set to expire Tuesday, the drivers earned an average of $17.50 an hour, while attendants made an average of $11 per hour. That pact covered health care costs.
In addition to the threat of having to pay for their own health care, the workers were upset by management’s contract proposal to cut five of their paid holidays. Last week, union members rejected the companies’ last offer and voted — by an 85 percent majority — to strike Tuesday if the offer was not improved.
In the face of the strike threat, DOE had put contingency plans in place that included offering free MetroCards to students who would have been forced to take city public transportation, or to reimburse parents for the carfare they would have spent to get their children to school.
“We are pleased to report that Jofaz Transportation and Y&M Transit have reached a tentative agreement with their bus drivers’ union and all buses will operate as usual,” said DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye. “We are grateful to families and educators for their patience and support as we prepared contingency plans to provide transportation alternatives for students and families.”
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