Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
New York City school bus workers are expected to have their pay slashed and benefits cut, starting April 15. Both Michael Cordiello, president of the union local representing some of the drivers and aides, and Jeffrey Pollack, a lawyer representing the school bus operators, confirmed the wage cuts. They also said contract talks were suspended.
This follows a tumultuous winter for the school bus industry, which included a month-long strike starting on Jan. 16. Some 8,000 bus drivers and aides walked off the job over the loss of job protections, known as EPPs. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a court ruling prohibited the city from including the protections in future contracts. And it was followed by an ignominious suspension of the strike when Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union realized it could not convince the Bloomberg administration to step in.
The school bus strike was the first in the city since 1979. About 5,000 of the city's 7,700 routes were affected. Cordiello said the latest failed round of negotiations with the bus companies were an extension of the strike.
“Companies, seeking to make more profit, and based on fears from the EPPs being removed, they’re using that as leverage and as a green light for them to go forward to decimate the work force even further,” he said, adding that he expects bus drivers and matrons to face a 7.5 percent reduction in wages. They will also lose pay over the Easter holiday and face higher health insurance costs.
The Daily News broke the story Thursday in a Juan Gonzalez column.
A statement from Pollack said that talks hit an impasse after the bus operators' coalition made a final offer which the union rejected.
"As the law permits, we will immediately begin implementing reductions in wages and benefits which will allow us to remain competitive and fairly bid for future contracts," he said. "We do not take lightly asking our employees to accept reductions in their wages and benefits, but such cost saving measures are absolutely necessary for the survival of all our futures."
Roberto Mora has been a school bus driver for 16 years. At the Atlantic Express depot Thursday morning he was upset about the possible cuts. “For the companies to do that, they're trying to take advantage of the situation we're in right now, that's a no no. For me, if we have to go on strike, I'm ready,” he said.
Another driver, Lionell, who declined to give his last name, said he already lived on the margins, and any cuts would be hard to absorb.
“That will hurt me, even what they pay now I can't pay my bills with it. But if they cut it, it will be crazy for us,” he said.