Re-Trained School Bus Drivers Serving as Matrons

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As the school bus strike stretches into its third week, some drivers are working as matrons in order to get more routes running. As of Tuesday morning, Atlantic Express on Staten Island brought in drivers of the United Service Workers Local 355 and had them double up on 68 buses.

Carolyn Daly, the spokesperson for the group of bus company owners, said half of the drivers are performing as matrons after receiving CPR training on Monday. This follows an emergency waiver received Monday from the Department of Education to use the drivers as matrons. These are the people responsible for assisting special education children on the buses and helping them from the bus to the front door of the school.

The scene at the depot on Staten Island was tense this morning as strikers jeered at the bus workers as they crossed the picket line.

When buses rolled out of the yard picketers on both sides of the entrance shouted: "They can't do our job!" and "Rats!"

One driver, Nicolas Barretto, walked off the job rather than cross the line. The strikers erupted in cheers as he left the depot.

On the ninth day of the strike, many picketers said they're willing to lose health care and pay over the issue of job protection. "You got to stand for what you believe in," said driver Angelo Pasaro, 58, who said he worked for Pioneer Transportation.

Picketers said the re-trained drivers serving as matrons took a four-hour D.O.E. training which they consider inadequate; Under normal circumstances, the D.O.E. requires 20 hours of training.

"It's a grave injustice done to the parents especially those with kids with special needs," said Ernest Maione, a union shop steward with Atlantic Express.

Daly refuted that claim, saying the drivers are highly-trained and have been on the job for years.

"The only additional training they needed to operate as matrons per D.O.E. rules was the CPR class which they completed yesterday," she said. "We are proud of their work and dedication today to get the children to schools safely and on time."

With reporting from Stephen Nessen.