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New York Post

 

Will Mike Strike Out?

January 21, 2013

By Nicole Gelinas

How to get buses moving

How long should New Yorkers put up with the school-bus strike? Last week, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 was in charge of the schedule. Mayor Bloomberg should make clear that the city will get kids to school on time and safely by making it clear that striking workers are risking their jobs.

As temperatures fell below freezing late last week, barely a third of the private yellow school buses that take 152,000 New York kids to school were on duty. That was a drop from Wednesday, the first strike day. Picketers intimidated replacement drivers and blocked buses.

The last time the union went out on strike, in 1979, it stayed out 13 weeks.

And the city caved in, giving the workers the civil-servant-style job protections that they want to keep now, no matter which private company employs them. (The city’s drive to do away with those protections after 34 years has pushed the union out this time.)

So without decisive action from Bloomberg, New York parents could be looking at chaos till summer or longer. Your kid may not get to school until the bus drivers run out of money.

But the mayor can take action by moving to terminate the bus companies’ contracts for nonperformance.

Whatever the city does, it’ll end up in court. Its contracts with bus companies are not well written. Unlike solid contracts that outline who does what in the event of everything from war to earthquakes, the contracts are vague on who the company or the city is responsible in a strike. The contracts require that bus companies make "good faith" efforts and the mayor hasn’t said what he thinks that means.

But the contracts do define what is a violation of the contract. "Failure to conform to and maintain the route," "exclusion of any rider from a run," "failure to provide service to a school," "failure to dispatch the kind of bus specified" and "failure to have the minimum number of spare vehicles" are among violations, with no excuses.

The city can issue fines of $2,800 a day, in some cases per bus route or per child, which could add up to tens of thousands of dollars (or more) a day.

Since contractors aren’t getting paid by the city while their buses are idle, such fines could put them out of business.

In the meanwhile, the city could move up its call for bids for new contractors to now, instead of next fall, signing emergency short-term deals with new bus fleets.

New drivers and matrons, like the old, would have to meet safety qualifications and criminal-background checks, just as the city plans for next year’s contracts.

Killing existing contracts means killing the drivers’ jobs a threat Bloomberg hasn’t wielded yet.

It works. In 1994, Legal Aid lawyers who worked for a private firm under a city contract, similar to the bus drivers today, went out on strike for a raise. Then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani immediately moved to terminate the contract. Just as immediately, the lawyers went back to work on the city’s terms.

The mayor should be clear that striking workers are risking their jobs. Union leaders don’t necessarily have workers’ interests at heart just as they didn’t in the recent past. When bus companies must make extortion payoffs to the union’s leader, as they did under former chief Sal "Hotdogs" Battaglia, now a felon, that means less money for drivers.

And new bidders are not going to hire minimum-wage workers. All companies need experienced drivers and matrons who won’t walk off the job in a few months’ time for a better opportunity.

Commercial drivers’ licenses and clean records are worth something. If that weren’t true, the bus companies would’ve ditched the union years ago.

The mayor’s duty is to taxpayers, parents and kids. There’s a lot at stake.

The members of a different union, the Transport Workers Union, who staff the subway and bus system, struck in 2005 (illegally, because they, unlike the school-bus workers, are public workers).

The TWU has been without a contract for a year now and it’s been gingerly testing its power again in recent weeks.

Union members have given out fliers to riders suggesting that the MTA makes subway motormen enter stations too fast for safety and is reminding the drivers and conductors to "use caution."

Since work slowdowns are illegal, the TWU has been careful to not tell drivers to slow down.

But TWU leaders not only support the striking school-bus drivers; they’re watching closely.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/will_mike_strike_out_9pzBxHEuOvdnSg0m1JU87I

 

 
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