Disappointed School Bus Workers Return to Routes

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At the Atlantic Express bus depot Wednesday morning bus workers hustled into the depot office to find their matron and which bus they'll be driving. It was the first day back on the job after a strike that many of the workers said left them feeling disappointed and just as concerned about their jobs as they felt before the strike started in mid-January.

Driver Jose Bautista, 50, said he was happy to be back at work but he's concerned about the issue at the heart of the strike: employee protections in future contracts.

"We didn't gain nothing, just promises, and thousands of drivers are going to lose their jobs at the end of June," he said. "I'm sad in a way, because a lot of co-workers and I might be out of a job."

Kathleen Baron, 48, has been a school bus matron for 16 years. She said returning to work without winning protections in the contract is bittersweet.

"I love my job, I'm devoted to my job, a lot us are, and I don't think it's fair the way they're treating us," she said. "I'm good at my job, my children love me and I love my children. On my bus the parents they trust us to pick up their children, they entrust us with the most precious cargo, and on that bus they're our children."

When Baron began working in 1997, she said she earned $6 an hour, now she earns $15 and worries if she loses her job she won't find anything that pays that well with benefits. For now, she's putting her faith in her union. "Wishful thinking and prayer," she said. "I trust in the union."

Meanwhile, as Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott predicted, there were some delays on the bus routes this morning. Many of the drivers were as much as 40 minutes late because many buses needed gas and hadn't been started in five weeks.

The New York Times spoke to other bus workers who expressed largely the same mix of emotions. When asked about the drivers' perceptions of the strike and its suspension, Lawrence Hanley, the international vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, told the Times that he had a “democratic union.”

“There is always dissatisfaction among the ranks, and when I say that, I don’t mean only in unions,” Hanley said. “There is never unanimity in any field of combat.”

Many of the parents most affected by the school bus strike were supportive of the bus workers. Still, the end of the strike was a huge relief for them.

Lori Podvesker stood by her son’s bed early Wednesday morning with a huge smile on her face.

“The buses are back today!” she said in a sing-song voice as she tried to wake up her sleepy 10-year-old.

Jack Podvesker Hoffer, who has cerebral palsy, smiled back at the news. It’s been a month since he and more than 100,000 students rode the New York City school buses. SchoolBook reported on Podvesker and her son last month, when they were juggling long rides in subways and cars. The idsrupted routine was especially difficult given Jack’s highly scheduled days of speech and physical therapy services.

Wednesday morning, however, they clapped their hands around the kitchen in joy of returning to a routine. Riding the school bus is a happy ritual for Jack, Podvesker said.

“This is Jack’s world. This is what he knows,” she added. “He thrives on structure”

While Podvesker admits the initial transition back to buses may be a little tough for Jack, she says it’ll significantly reduce the stress in the household. During the strike, she sacrificed many work hours adjusting her schedule. She said many other parents of kids with special needs felt a similar sense of relief, as some jeopardized their jobs by keeping their children at home during the strike.

Reporting by Reema Khrais and Stephen Nessen