Today’s news:

Bus strike persists with no settlement in sight

As the private bus strike dragged into its second week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told an Ozone Park town meeting the city is considering putting the routes under control of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which already runs the city buses.

“We just started preliminary talks with the MTA to see if they could take over the private bus lines here,” Bloomberg said Monday night after an audience member asked him about the ongoing labor dispute that has forced 115,000 Queens commuters to find alternate ways to work.

But Bloomberg’s comments at MS 210 had little impact on the approximately 1,500 striking bus employees, who are seeking a more immediate resolution to the dispute.

“Who runs the lines is significantly less important than whether the union workers keep their jobs, as they should, and whether they’re paid fairly and given proper benefits,” said Joe Rappaport, a spokesman for Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents the striking workers.

The move to public control could in fact benefit employees of the private bus lines because they would earn a higher wage under the MTA.

“Obviously the union would welcome equity,” Rappaport said.

The buses operated by Queens Surface Corp., Triboro Coach and Jamaica Buses have sat idle since June 17, when their employees walked off the job citing the city’s decision to back out on its original promise to increase the funding of the union’s health plan.

Speaking at the Ozone Park forum, the mayor also reiterated his position that the city plays no role in the contract negotiations.

“Any other money we have for health benefits is going to go for city workers,” he said. “The city takes care of its workers and the private bus companies have to take care of their workers.”

Local 100 officials tell an entirely different story, depicting Bloomberg as the sole obstacle to the approval of their contract.

“The city is in this up to its armpits,” said Local 100 spokesman Dave Katzman.

The city heavily subsidizes the private bus lines and must approve any contract negotiated between the union and company management.

Whereas the contract negotiated with the city’s municipal workers raises health benefits funding by 19 percent over two years, the city has only offered 3.5 percent to Local 100.

Although Katzman said the city has met with both the union and the bus companies, no progress has been made toward a resolution of the conflict.

“There seems to be a total stalemate between the city and the union,” said City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises.

Meanwhile, the striking workers have been fanning out across the borough to call attention to their plight in a public awareness campaign targeting the bus riders.

“We have literature in all different languages basically explaining our situation that it’s something we’re forced to do,” said Jason McShane of Whitestone, the recording secretary for Local 100 at Queens Surface. “They’ve been very supportive of us. I feel bad for them, because these are people that you see every day.”

As McShane spoke Monday afternoon, a few dozen picketing workers who gathered outside the College Point depot of Queens Surface Corp. sought refuge from the heat beneath a line of makeshift canopies strung over the 28th Avenue sidewalk.

Although the bus employees have walked off the job twice before, the current strike is by far the most enduring, having already dragged on for a week and a half with no end in sight.

The union had signed a contract with management at the three companies in March, but the agreement failed to get approval from the city. Workers have been without a contract since January 2001.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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