Today’s news:

Bus Drivers Are Not Selfish Thugs

TimesLedger Newspapers

Since they went on strike just over a week ago, the city’s school bus drivers have been vilified by the media and political leaders who said the “selfish drivers” were “holding the children hostage.”

Stories appeared about past leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, who allegedly had ties to organized crime. Television reports showed parents who said they “might have to quit” their jobs in order to get their children to school.

There is no denying the strike has been painful, but the drivers are not heartless union thugs. They are decent people worried about keeping their jobs.

The strike affects more than 152,000 students, 54,000 of whom have disabilities and require special transportation arrangements. There are 7,700 yellow school bus routes in the city and about 11 percent of the city’s 1.35 million public and private students were affected by the strike. The remaining 1.2 million students still have bus service because their drivers were either represented by other unions or were nonunion workers and their contracts are not up for renewal.

Union leaders negotiated with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city Department of Education for months and made it clear they would strike if they were not promised job guarantees in new contracts.

The union is demanding a jobs guarantee in the form of an Employee Protection Provision be included in any new contract. Bloomberg says that’s impossible after a 2011 state Court of Appeals ruling blocked it specifically for pre-kindergarten bus contracts.

The city is trying to reduce the cost of student transportation, currently the highest in the nation. That’s commendable, but there should be a way to do this without kicking experienced drivers to the street.

We urge Bloomberg and the city Law Department to find a way to rewrite the contracts so the drivers will have some protection and new bus companies can be founded without having to pay the same wages as the older private companies.

Bloomberg is, first and foremost, a businessman. He is playing hardball with the union to cut costs, but the city should also make provision to get the affected children to school until an agreement is reached.

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