School Bus Company Says it Will Shut Down After Union Rejects Contract

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The school bus company Atlantic Express said it will go out of business at the end of December, after the union rejected its final offer for a new contract on Wednesday.

The Staten Island-based company had filed for bankruptcy in November and was seeking to lower its wages and benefits through contract negotiations.

"We are very disappointed with the outcome of the union vote," said spokeswoman Carolyn Daly. "Without this labor contract, we have no choice left but to proceed with the sale of all of the company’s assets and contracts."

She said 2000 New York City jobs will be lost along with 1600 bus routes. Atlantic claimed it wasn't able to compete with non-union companies after the city removed employee protections from the bus routes that were put out for bid this year, enabling them to pay their workers less.

But the president of the Amalgamated Transit union blamed Mayor Michael Bloomberg for creating chaos, by removing those long-held employee protections. The union went on strike for a month last winter, in protest, and lost.

"The mayor blew up the school bus system as we predicted," said Hanley, whose union includes Local 1181 in New York. Hanley was characteristically blunt in his assessment of the outgoing mayor.

"The clear intent and result of his school bus assault was to lower wages of already poor men and women who work every day for New Yorkers," he said in an email. "There is a special place in hell for people like Michael Bloomberg."

But Bloomberg spokesman Marc Lavorgna said that contrary to the union's belief, "no employees of a private company have a permanent right to a government contract."

The administration claims the city will save $210 million over the next five years by eliminating employee protections. Bloomberg has repeatedly noted that New York pays far more to bus its students than any other city.

Hanley claims 1800 workers lost their jobs after employee protections were removed from new contracts with the city. The union went to court and a judge blocked the bus companies from cutting wages last summer. Atlantic said that made it even more difficult to stay afloat.

The company said its contracts and bus fleets are now for sale. Any new company that wants the bus routes will be subject to approval by the Department of Education.

Lavorgna said a new school bus provider would pick up Atlantic's routes. Atlantic has survived several close brushes with bankruptcy in the past.