New York City school bus drivers prepare to strike

High schools.

It’s looking like more than 150,000 kids in New York City will be looking for a different way to get to school tomorrow. Bus drivers in the country’s largest school system are preparing to strike. Students will be able to ride public transit for free. Or, if they need to take a cab or car, the city will pay for it.

Without a last minute deal, more than eight thousand school bus drivers and matrons are expected to walk off the job Wednesday morning. Matrons help kids get on and off the bus safely.

Though the city will pay for other arrangements, some parents may keep their kids at home. “As a result a lot of people would be forced to not make it into work,” says Gary Chaison, a labor relations professor at Clark University. “A strike would have a ripple effect throughout the economy in the city.”

New York City is trying to save money, so it’s put some of its bus contracts up for competitive bid. Union drivers want guarantees they’ll keep their jobs. Chaison says organized labor has been trying to rebuild its reputation as good for the economy. He says this won’t help.

“People will see the images of children waiting for buses that never show up and parents missing work because there were no buses for their kids,” he says.

New York drivers aren’t the only unhappy ones. Today school bus drivers in Charleston, S.C., voted to authorize a possible strike. They’re concerned about wages and health benefits -- and about safety.

“I would say I was breaking down on the average about every other month,” says retired Charleston County school bus driver Jim Merryman. “So yes, that is a concern.”

Merryman says he made $12-13 an hour -- better than a lot of blue-collar jobs in the area. And there were other perks.

“The reward just of seeing kids every day was what really made me do it,” he says.

Getting up at 5:30 every morning? Not so rewarding.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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