Can we at least get the mob out?
With the mayor demanding better contracts, the schoolbus-drivers union is threatening a cold-weather strike. "School and city officials distributed contingency plans for transporting 150,000 children to and from school."
That news report isnt from this week, but from nearly two decades ago, in 1995.
Since 1979, a series of mayors have either given the Amalgamated Local 1181 union what it wanted — or taken it on, and lost. If Mayor Bloomberg changes history, hell set the tone for a productive final year at City Hall.
The unions latest threat comes for the same old reason: The mayor wants better contracts from the private bus firms.
The city spends $1.1 billion to bus school children — 54,000 of them disabled — who cant take public transit. Thats $6,900 per New York City student — more than twice the $3,124 a head that runner-up Los Angeles spends.
The city could potentially save $500 million every year over time — money that could go to classrooms (or back to taxpayers) from better deals with the dozens of small firms that run the yellow buses.
As the citys contracts with the private bus companies expire, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, backed by Bloomberg, wants a better deal.
Last month, the Department of Education put 1,100 of its 7,700 bus routes out for a competitive bid. The idea is that companies — including nonunion ones — that offer services for the best price would win. All bidders would have to stick to the same safety rules, including criminal-background checks for drivers.
Whats wrong with that? A lot, says the union, whose drivers make between $32,000 and $61,000 a year. Amalgamateds angry because the city refuses to preserve job guarantees for individual drivers no matter who wins the bid.
The guarantees may violate the law: Last year, a court ruled that similar job guarantees for the citys pre-K bus contracts were illegal.
And such guarantees discourage new firms, including out-of-state ones, from bidding. New companies could find themselves stuck with an unfamiliar workforce and unable to cut costs even after theyve agreed to a price.
The city shouldnt do anything to discourage new bidders — especially in an industry long tied to the Mafia.
Yes, the Mafia. Three separate investigations since 1990, the latest in 2007, also found widespread mob influence at the union and at bus companies.
The bus unions former head, Salvatore "Hotdogs" Battaglia, pleaded guilty to shaking down bus companies five years ago.
The Bloomberg reforms could free the drivers from a system that has long encouraged collusion among union leaders and owners. Without the city demanding competitive bidding, mob-led "competition" has ruled. That boosts costs — fur coats and plastic surgery dont pay for themselves — without much increasing worker pay.
And theres absolutely no point in using private firms without private bidding; competition is what the private sector is all about.
Right now, the city and the union are at an impasse. But if history is any guide, the union has the upper hand.
Even though the drivers have public-sector job security, they arent public workers. That means theyre not subject to the states Taylor Law, which forbids critical government workers from walking off the job.
A 1979 strike created chaos for students and parents; ever since, mayors have buckled to this threat. City schools officials were so scared after that Koch-era strike that they have continually renewed contracts that originally expired more than three decades ago.
Yet the world has changed since then. Those rotten contracts require the city to pay overtime for drivers who go out before 7:30 a.m., for one thing, making it expensive for Walcott to make changes to the school day.
The last big showdown between City Hall and Amalgamated was in 1995, under Mayor Rudy Giuliani — who, like Bloomberg, wanted to eliminate the job-protection provisions.
But Giuliani backed down, claiming hed gotten other cost savings from the bus companies instead. Yet those savings didnt materialize — and costs have more than doubled (after inflation) since.
In fact, Bloomberg stuck up for the union until recently. The city argued in court until 2011 that it needed to keep the job-protection provisions to avoid a strike.
The mayor changed his mind — and he shouldnt change it back.
Allowing for competitive bidding of bus contracts — and making sure the mob doesnt influence the bids — would show all the citys unions that Bloomberg plans to make up for lost time in fixing the citys budget before he leaves office in 51 weeks.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/schoolbus_stakes_LPRHy4I4CoQrwPnKhcugsO