School Bus Companies Sue City

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Three of the bus companies that have contracts with New York City have filed a lawsuit over the hotly debated employee protection provisions, or EPPs, claiming the city should do away with them immediately instead of only scrapping them from contracts now going out for bid.

The union went on strike Jan. 16th when the city removed the EPPs from about 1,100 special education bus routes that were put out for bid in December. Those protections require companies to keep the most senior drivers and matrons. But they're still in place for all other existing contracts most which don't expire for two years. Those contracts cover 6,600 routes.

In their lawsuit, the bus companies argued that the EPPs must be removed now on all contracts. They said if they bid on the new contracts they'll have to account for "inflated labor costs" of their existing contracts, putting them at an unfair disadvantage against a bus company that's bidding for the first time.

"The Petitioners' predicament reflects a clear violation of the competitive bidding statutes," the companies claimed in their court papers, arguing that the process prevented "fair and equal treatment to all bidders."

Mayor Bloomberg has said the EPPs are illegal based on a 2011 Court of Appeals ruling, and he will remove them from all city contracts as they come up for renewal. A spokesperson for the city's law department said, "We just received a copy of the lawsuit and are in the process of reviewing it."

Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union has argued that the protections should remain, because they court's 2011 ruling applied only to a select batch of pre-kindergarten bus routes. The union also claims the protections ensure experienced drivers will remain on the job.

"For over 30 years, the Employee Protection Provision (EPP) has created one of the safest and most experienced workforces in the country, without contributing to the rising costs of busing throughout New York City. Neither the City, nor bus companies, have ever shown that the EPP adds costs, and as recent as last Friday, Chancellor Walcott, when pressed by the City Council, could not cite any examples that proves it is a cost-driver," a Local 1181 spokesperson said.

"Rather than go after the drivers, matrons and mechanics of ATU Local 1181, who make on average between $30-35,000 annually, the city should postpone these bids until the real rising costs of busing in New York City can be identified and addressed," she added.

In other developments, the Department of Education has taken the unusual step of planning to open and read aloud the new bids for those 1100 routes at the offices of the School Construction Authority in Long Island City on Tuesday. The bids will not be awarded yet but the city has amended the bids so that the winners could start before September if the strike drags on.