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The New York City school bus drivers union will go on strike beginning Wednesday morning, union president Michael Cordiello announced Monday evening.
Cordiello, who heads Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said the union is still negotiating with city officials and is "optimistic" for an agreement but until there is a resolution, drivers will strike Wednesday. More than 8,000 drivers and matrons will be taking part.
"With its regrettable decision to strike, the union is abandoning 152,000 students and their families who rely on school bus service each day," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. "As Chancellor (Dennis) Walcott and I have said, the City will take all steps available to ensure that those who are impacted have the support they need, and we are now activating the protocols we put in place in the event of a strike."
Cordiello said, "Safely transporting our children back and forth [to] school ... has, and always will be, the top priority of every man and woman who make up ATU Local 1181."
Under the city's strike contingency plans, students would receive free MetroCards for mass transit. Parents or guardians of younger children also would get the cards.
Families of special needs students would be reimbursed for private transportation. Of the 152,000 students who use the buses, 54,000 are disabled and would face extra hardships in trying to find alternative transportation.
There are 1.1 million students in the New York City schools. While the majority don't use school buses, those that do are among the youngest ones.
Bloomberg: 'Irresponsible,' 'misguided'
The union and the city have been battling over how new contracts are being drawn up for a set of bus routes. The city wants to cut transportation costs and has put about 1,100 bus contracts with private bus companies up for bid.
The union is decrying the lack of Employee Protection Provisions, saying without the so-called EPP, current drivers could suddenly lose their jobs once their contracts are up in June.
Bloomberg reiterated at a press conference earlier Monday that the union wants job protections the city cannot legally provide. Cordiello said that claim was inaccurate.
"We know it is not illegal to put it in the bid," he said at a press conference Monday. "We will continue to push for resolution, but we cannot negotiate from a position of inaccurate information."
The state Court of Appeals in 2011 barred the city from including EPP because of competitive bidding laws. Hence, the mayor said, the city cannot accept the union demand for an EPP clause.
"Let me be clear: the union's decision to strike has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with job protections that the City legally cannot include in its bus contracts," Bloomberg's statement said. "We hope that the union will reconsider its irresponsible and misguided decision to jeopardize our students' education."
During the strike, more transit officers and crossing guards would be in place to help children get to school using mass transportation, Schools Chancellor Walcott said.
The city also said reimbursements and MetroCards will be offered to parents who would need transportation alternatives.
Parents Monday were worried even before the strike was announced, though many hadn't had time to make logistical arrangements.
"It would be very difficult for me to walk her to school because of my health condition. That would be a very difficult problem," said Norma Melgar. "I hope they don't strike. I haven't made any plans at all yet."
Student Genesis Bustamante said she would have to adapt to an unfamiliar way of getting to school.
"If I don't take the yellow bus, I'm not really sure how to get to school that easily," she said.