Bill Advances to Reinstate Employee Protections for NYC School Bus Drivers

The New York Assembly Chamber.

On Wednesday, the New York Assembly showed wide support for a bill (A.9499) that would require all student transportation contracts in cities of at least one million to include employee protection provisions (EPPs), passing it in a 119-17 vote and sending it to the Senate.

The bill summary states that all contracts shall include EPPs related to the promotion of a pool of qualified workers and the avoidance of labor disputes.

Thirty-two New York City Council members signed a June 3 letter urging the state Legislature to sign this bill into law to make the employee protections mandatory in city school bus contracts. In the letter, they contend that the EPP protects worker pensions, promotes fair hiring practices and enables an experienced, well-trained workforce to be retained.

The New York City Department of Education, the largest public school system in the country, provides transportation services to more than 600,000 students attending both public and non-public schools in the city.

Council members painted a bleak picture of the city’s school bus service since former Mayor Michael Bloomberg removed the EPP from school bus contracts, which triggered a bus strike in January 2013 that lasted more than a month, stranding thousands of students.

The bus drivers ultimately returned to their jobs, they stated the city “lost” out because established bus companies were driven into bankruptcy, including Atlantic Express, and numerous veteran bus drivers and monitors lost their jobs or took major pay cuts. Last, they said that the safety of children was compromised when put “in the hands of untested companies and an unreliable workforce.”

“Only two months ago, the City Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor heard from parents, school bus employees and union organizers who attested to the damage that the EPP’s removal has done to those involved with the school bus industry,” the letter stated. “Stories about children with special needs left waiting on corners, inexperienced drivers delivering students late to class and veteran workers forced to watch their seniority disregarded, poured in one after another.”

The letter concludes with council members requesting swift action by lawmakers in favor of A.9499/S.6233 because “it is vital that the (EPP) is mandated for inclusion in all future school bus contracts.”

While Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for the EPP, even criticizing Bloomberg for not waiting for the new administration to step in before deciding to cut the provision, he has not yet committed to the effort. In the 2013 New York City mayoral race, all five candidates pledged to reinstate the EPP for bus drivers and monitors.

Peter Mannella, executive director of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, told STN that association officials reviewed the bill and had some reservations about the precedents it sets for the Legislature in terms of school transportation services.

“We’re aware of the bill and we reviewed it. We had discussions with several representatives in the Legislature to express some questions and concerns, but we did not issue a memorandum in support or opposition,” Mannella said.

Robert Pape, president of the New York School Bus Contractors Association, told STN that the organization, which boasts 200-plus member companies, does not support the measure.

“The primary mission of the New York School Bus Contractors Association is to continue to ensure private school bus contractors provide the safest, most reliable and cost-effective student transportation possible; the association believes the current competitive bidding process ,with all its child safeguards and service requirements, is accomplishing that goal and therefore Assembly Bill 9499-A — the same as Senate Bill 7233-A — is unnecessary,” said Pape.