FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 16, 2013
MAYOR BLOOMBERG UPDATES NEW YORKERS ON SCHOOL BUS STRIKE
The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered at City Hall today:
“On buses, let me talk a little bit about what’s going on. I have Dennis Walcott, our Schools Chancellor, joining is here, Kathleen Grimm, Chief Banks. We wanted to update you on today’s bus strike by members of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Pam Mitchell, thank you very much for signing for us today. And Chief Banks, thank you for coming.
“At the outset, let me say something about the attempts by some supporters of this strike to prevent school buses from operating. Four bus vendors – three in Brooklyn and one on Staten Island – reported that pickets supporting the strike blocked gates at their garages this morning in an effort to keep buses from those garages from leaving. That is illegal.
“The NYPD was called in to intervene so that the buses could roll out and start picking up students, many of whom may have been standing outside in this morning’s freezing rain with their parents, waiting for their rides to school.
“The drivers and matrons on those buses are not members of Local 1181. They’re either represented by other unions, or are nonunion workers. And I think it’s just an outrage that picketers would try to prevent them from doing their jobs. It’s an even bigger outrage that they would try to prevent kids from getting to school today.
“Union leaders have denied that this is a strike against schoolchildren and their families. Unfortunately, I think it’s fair to say, such disgraceful actions speak louder than words.
“Whatever else happens during this strike, let me make it clear: We won’t permit that kind of reprehensible conduct.
“Now, let me give you an overall summary of the school bus situation. There are a total of 7,700 yellow school bus routes in the city. They serve about 152,000 students out of a total of 1,350,000 public and private school students and pre-kindergarten students. The 152,000 is about 11 percent of the total. So to start out, that means that 1.2 million of our students were not affected by the strike. For them, it was a normal school day, although I will say with the weather a lot of them probably weren’t happy to trudge through the rain and slush, but they did get to school.
“Our force, however, has got to be on helping the 152,000 who use school buses on a normal day to get to school, and we’re doing that by providing free MetroCards or by reimbursing parents their auto travel expenses to and from school. And we’ve especially focused our help on the roughly 54,000 public and private school aged students with special needs. Those youngsters often experience extra difficulty when trying to use public transportation, and we’re doing everything we can do make their problems as minimal as possible, although it obviously, for some of them, it really is a struggle.
“Let me tell you what happened today. At 7:00 AM, roughly 39 percent or about 3,000 of the total 7,700 bus routes were running. So let’s say 40 percent, 3,000 buses out of the 7,700 picked up their students on their normal routes, and that includes, I’m happy to say, all of the pre-k routes serving 12,000 students.
“That’s because they were covered by contracts that were renegotiated last year. The buses that are in operation are staffed by workers who are, I will say, not members of Local 1181.
“Before turning things over to Dennis, let me reiterate: This strike is about job guarantees that the union just can’t have. That’s what the State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, has ruled. That opinion was written by New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.
“The union has lost legal challenges on this issue at every level; 12 judges told them they’re wrong, that they are seeking protections that aren’t provided, incidentally, in any other school district in the nation.
“In fact, Local 1181 has contracts with other bus companies nearby in Westchester County, on Long Island, and in Connecticut that do not have in those contracts provisions such as this, and where they’re nevertheless providing safe, reliable bus service.
“But if you tell a lie long enough, maybe some people will believe it. The truth of the matter here is any lawyer will tell you, after 12 judges right up through Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman have said something is illegal it is illegal, and trying to say well it’s illegal for one group and not another is just ridiculous. It is illegal for us to provide it in this situation, regardless of whether these are pre-K students or special ed students, or any of the other groups of students.
“Number two, we pay far more than any other school system in the nation for school busing. The question you have to ask yourself is, are we doing a good job in allocating the taxpayers’ money that we’ve devoted to education to the part of education that will give our students the best results.
“We spend in this city $6,900 per student, compared to the next closest system, which is Los Angeles, which pays just $3,100 per student. So less than half in Los Angeles, and all of the other cities are less than that. It is just irrational for us to keep spending this amount of money unless there’s no alternative, and we’re going to find out whether there’s an alternative by putting the contracts out to bid. That’s what the law requires us to do, it just hasn’t been done since 1979, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to do it.
“Today our parents are having a tougher time than ever before with this economy. The taxpayer does not want to spend any more money than he or she has to do. We do have an obligation to provide safe, reliable service, but we have an obligation also to do it at the best price, and we want to reinvest anything that we can save back into the classrooms where we know we have to keep improving the educational experience for our kids as the demands of the marketplace and globally increase.
“This is why we’ve chosen to bid out contracts for 1,100 bus routes. We think that the union has obligations as well. It is obviously designed, unions as they should be, to protect their members and get them the best wages and benefits and working conditions that they can.
“And we understand that. But we don’t set salaries and benefits for these workers. Their employers, the bus companies that they work for, do. And the protection that they’re seeking is one which we can’t force their employers to provide – by law. And it is not in the City’s interest to do so.
“The City’s interest is to get the best service that it possibly can at the lowest possible price, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. The taxpayers of this city have never told us that they want to take any one group and say I’m going to pay more taxes just to support that group.
“The taxpayers of this city want to make sure the City’s employees, who we have a responsibility to, get paid as well as we can, as fairly as we can. That’s 280,000 people, and our responsibility is to make sure the monies are going to them. And when we contract services out, to get the best possible service that we can at the best price.
“The employees that are striking, they have to resolve their issues with the bus companies that employ them, and not us. So let me turn things over to Dennis and he can describe it in a little more detail. Dennis?”
Marc LaVorgna/Lauren Passalacqua (212) 788-2958
Erin Hughes/Marge Feinberg (DOE) (212) 374-5141
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