Last week the New York unionized School Bus Drivers went on strike. The city currently pays an average of $6,900 per student for transportation. Yes, that’s right, $6,900.00 per student, a rate that is totally unsustainable.
So the city wants to put the bus contract up for bid. The drivers are beside themselves because their employment will not be guaranteed by the next contract bidder(s).
NEW YORK [excerpt] – [...] The nationwide attention that strikes, rooted in very local fights, tend to receive now is another indication of how unions have weakened in recent decades. “It’s sad that it’s seen as a novelty,” says Zev Eigen, associate professor of law at Northwestern University.
It also means that unions have to pick their fights carefully, he says, because public sympathy will go down if a strike is not tied to a substantial issue of fairness.
At the heart of the bus strike is a dispute over the bidding process for a bus contract to replace one due to expire in June.
The school district currently spends an average of $6,900 per year for each bused student, more than double the cost of the next most expensive district of Los Angeles.
“It is just irrational for us to keep spending this amount of money unless there’s no alternative, and we’re going to find out whether there’s an alternative by putting the contracts out to bid,” said Mayor Bloomberg Wednesday.
New York City Schools already got new contracts for pre-K busing, and officials say that will save $95 million over five years. The current bid under dispute is for 1,100 routes that serve K-12 students with disabilities, but the union is striking beyond those routes.
In its call for bids, the city did not include an employee protection provision (EPP), which calls for any new contractor to place at the top of its hiring list the current drivers and bus matrons (whether union members or not) based on seniority. The EPP also covers wages and benefits (the pension for union members is private).
[...] Without the EPPS, the call for bids “almost demands lower wages … and you get what you pay for,” says Mr. Ott. For at least four or five years, he predicts, less expensive, and therefore less experienced, drivers and matrons would be playing catch-up. According to the union, the average salary for the drivers and matrons is $35,000.
But others predict that a new bus company would be likely to hire the experienced local workers, even without the EPP.
“In most cases, when a new bus contractor wins a bid, they are smarter to hire the current drivers [who have] passed the difficult state licensing [and are] familiar with the route and the children,” says John Spang, assistant superintendent for finance and operations at the Avon Public Schools. (read more)