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New York Post

 

Beating The Bus Strike

February 05, 2013

By Nicole Gelinas

Why city’s on track to win

Last Friday, the feds ruled for Gotham’s striking school-bus drivers. But it’s early innings. As long as Mayor Bloomberg holds firm, schoolchildren and taxpayers can win.

Three weeks ago tomorrow, the 8,800 bus drivers and matrons who are supposed to take 152,000 kids to school walked out. The Department of Education has been finding rides, including for 54,000 disabled students, in sub-freezing weather.

The strikers don’t work for the city. They work for private companies. But the workers’ union, Amalgamated Transit Union 1181, is mad at the city, because Bloomberg is changing the terms of future contracts with the drivers’ employers.

Starting this fall, the mayor’s educrats will no longer insist that companies offer "employee seniority protections" — privileges that let drivers pick routes according to seniority and keep their pay and benefits when new companies take over old contracts.

Why? A court ruled such provisions illegal. Plus, city taxpayers spend $1.1 billion each year on school buses, twice as much per head as Los Angeles.

Competition could cut costs. But it’s hard to have real competition when potential new companies know they have zero say over their biggest single cost, the workforce.

When the union went out on strike, the bus companies appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, which last week decreed the strike "not unlawful."

The union used the ruling to give its picketing members a morale boost. "Our Strike Is Legal! We Beat the Companies Again!" the ATU said.

Not so fast. The NLRB ruled "for" the union, because, it said, the union has a dispute with the private employers, making those employers fair game.

The board noted that the contracts between the companies and union clearly state that "should the . . . [Department of Education announce] any bid . . . without the [seniority protections], then the union . . . shall have the right to reopen this Agreement," and void a no-strike clause, too.

The strike would have been illegal if the union’s only dispute was with the city. That would’ve meant the union was taking an innocent party — bus companies — hostage to get something from City Hall.

It’s an odd victory, since the union would rather negotiate with Bloomberg, not with the bus companies. And the bus companies would prefer it that way, too — since the non-competitive system is plenty cozy for them.

Both workers and employers had long figured that a strike would bring the city to its knees — and that Bloomberg would restore the old contracts. That’s what happened 34 years ago.

But it’s working out differently this time.

With less than a third of buses running, the city is giving MetroCards to parents and kids who can take public transit and giving other kids the exciting option of riding around town in their own personal limousines, with the school system paying the bill.

(The second part will be insanely expensive and fraud-ridden, but less so than the contracts the city is trying to shed.)

Meanwhile, the NLRB, by refusing to force strikers back to work, has given the city what it needs — time.

Indeed, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has moved up the possible start date of the new contracts — the ones without the seniority provisions. Rather than have the contracts start in the fall, the city has reserved the right to begin them "earlier" — meaning: soon.

Bids are due next week — and at least two companies have run big ads in The Post looking for commercial drivers willing to work for $14.50 hourly plus benefits.

Finally, bus companies are coaxing drivers to return to current routes. On Monday of last week, only 28.6 percent of bus routes were running; it rose to 32 percent yesterday. Attendance hit the highest it’s been since the strike, with the city having certified 49 drivers and 200 matrons in two weeks.

Sure, the city faces risks in ignoring the union. The NLRB must rule on another matter that could push it to the bargaining table; City Hall could face a lawsuit from students and parents for not providing service.

And a bad crash would bring bad press.

For now, though, the city is doing fine — making the comments of some would-be mayors perplexing.

GOP candidate Joe Lhota, at least, stood up for the mayor and the taxpayers, saying yesterday that the ruling didn’t change the fact that "what the union is asking for" from the city "is illegal."

But Comptroller John Liu, former Comptroller Bill Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio are all on the union side. ’Nuff said.

And City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the supposed moderate on the Democratic side, said Friday that the city should suspend its bid-taking so that "all parties [can] get back to the negotiating table."

Huh? Those bids are the best weapon New York has — plus, that groundhog who told Quinn that the weather’s getting warmer.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/beating_the_bus_strike_uIpbfs0IBz801w99bGGAjK

 

 
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