Streams

What Did the Democrats Really Promise the Bus Workers Union?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 05:20 PM

The city's first school bus strike in over 30 years ended when the five Democrats running for mayor issued a statement calling on the union to go back to work. The statement allowed the union to suspend the strike in favor of waiting for a more sympathetic mayor but actually the candidates did not promise very much.

"We know this is not an easy decision," the mayoral candidates said. "But we pledge, if elected, to revisit the school bus transportation system and contracts and take effective action to insure that the important job security, wages and benefits of your members are protected within the bidding process, while at the same time are fiscally responsible for taxpayers."

Hear Beth Fertig's update on bus strike politics

The statement was issued by Council speaker Christine Quinn, Comptroller John Liu, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, Public Advocate Bill De Blasio and former Councilman Sal Albanese. From the union's perspective, it sounded good. But it wasn't a promise. When asked if he would keep employee protections if elected, Liu told Schoolbook/WNYC, "As far as I'm concerned I signed the letter that says we will certainly revisit the issue. It's not dead."

As to who wrote the statement, the president of the national union called it a "collaborative effort." Larry Hanley, of the Amalgamated Transit Union in Washington, noted that all five of the candidates were already on record criticizing Mayor Michael Bloomberg for refusing to negotiate with Local 1181. Hanley said he had "ongoing discussions" with the candidates, and they eventually agreed that a joint statement was the best approach. He said the president of Local 1181 was not involved in the statement.

In the end, the statement allowed the candidates to take some credit for ending the strike while allowing the union to claim it was likely to get a better deal with the next mayor - if it's a Democrat. But there's one downside for the Democrats: they are vulnerable to the critics, like Republican candidate Joe Lhota, who already complained his rivals were "beholden" to union interests, ahead of the interests of children and taxpayers.

For now, Bloomberg is claiming victory because the bus strike ended on a very different note than the last strike in 1979, when the city agreed to put employment protections back into its contracts.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has said the city spent about $20 million on mass transit and taxis during the month-long strike, a quarter of what it would have spent in that same time on yellow buses.

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