Boro buses return to streets as strike ends

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After 51 days of sitting idle, buses for three of the borough’s private lines began rolling with limited service Wednesday morning after striking employees ratified a contract and decided to end their protracted job action.

A tentative agreement was reached early Saturday morning after a marathon session that had lasted through the night between Transport Workers Union Local 100, the three private bus lines, the city’s Office of Labor Relations and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.

Workers voted to ratify the settlement Tuesday and officially returned to work at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

The strike had forced 115,000 Queens riders to seek other forms of transportation for seven weeks.

The contract provides wage increases, improved health benefits and pension protection for the 1,500 workers, an agreement union President Roger Toussaint described as “the best package possible on wages and health benefits.” He added that the union had “also made great progress on job security.”

The long-awaited contract was greeted with a wave of relief from borough leaders down to the riding public.

“We worried daily about the elderly, the thousands of stranded passengers, the economic impact of the strike on our business trips and the ability of striking drivers to put food on their families’ tables,” Marshall said in a statement released Monday, a day before union members officially ratified the new contract. “Hopefully, these worries are over.”

The buses operated by Queens Surface Corp., Triboro Coach and Jamaica Buses stopped running on June 17 when workers walked off the job citing the city’s refusal to increase the funding of the union’s health plan.

The city heavily subsidizes the private bus lines and must approve any contract negotiated between the union and company management. Drivers and mechanics for the three bus lines had gone without a contract for a year and a half.

Local 100 officials allowed mechanics to return to the bus depots Tuesday afternoon — before the union vote was final — to begin preparing the buses for operation since the vehicles had sat idle for so long that they needed service before running again.

Queens Surface spokesman Mike Gill said the company expected to have limited service on all local routes Wednesday morning and planned to augment service with additional buses throughout the day.

The company expected to put express buses back on the road by Thursday and resume full overall service by the end of the week.

Triboro Coach was expected to run at 75 percent capacity Wednesday, and Jamaica Buses between 60 and 70 percent, Newsday reported.

The new 27-month contract, which is retroactive to January 2001, provides a wage increase of 4 percent each for 2001 and 2002 and an additional 1 percent on March 31, 2003 as well as an increase in pension contributions and benefits.

Before the wage increase, drivers earned $20.35 an hour, mechanics $21.64 an hour and cleaners $17.09 an hour at top scale at Queens Surface, rates that closely match those at the other two companies.

Most significant is an additional $3.75 million that the city is advancing the bus lines to finance the employee’s health insurance, funding that the companies will eventually make up through productivity gains. A lack of funding for health insurance was the original issue that sparked the strike.

A resolution introduced last month by City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and supported by the vast majority of council members guarantees job security for the workers if the franchise agreements for the private lines are bid out to new companies.

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

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