Unless a deal is worked out Tuesday, more than 150,000 New York City kids may have a hard time getting to school Wednesday.
Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents more than 8,000 city school bus workers, said Monday that its drivers would go on strike if the city doesn't meet their requests.
Union president Michael Cordiello said members want Mayor Michael Bloomberg to offer a job-saving employee protection provision as the city seeks bids for a new contractor.
"We think competition is OK, but for the safety of the children of New York, you have to provide the best drivers," Cordiello said. "This is not a decision we've arrived at lightly, but an action we must take."
Under the protections pushed by the union, bus companies that win bids would have to hire drivers that worked for losing companies based on seniority, and pay them all the same amount.
Bloomberg and city schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott called the union's actions irresponsible, and said they are prepared to ensure that the 152,000 affected students would get to class on time.
After the union's announcement, Bloomberg said in a statement: "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. We hope that the union will reconsider its irresponsible and misguided decision to jeopardize our students' education."
Parents will receive MetroCards from their schools or can have their mileage reimbursed at 55 cents per mile if they have to drive their children to school.
Bloomberg acknowledged that the contingency plan may not be the best option for parents, but he discouraged them from keeping their kids home.
"Even with all these measures in place, however, a systemwide strike would present significant challenges for students and families," he said.
The city's Department of Education last year issued bids for 1,100 bus contracts, a sixth of the total contracts, for the first time in 33 years.
The mayor said the city spends more than $1 billion a year on student busing, and that the new contracts would save the city millions.
"We have to go through this bidding because the money must be put in the classroom, where it belongs," Bloomberg said.
The union has said that many experienced drivers fear they could lose their jobs without the provision. Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and city Comptroller John Liu backed the union's concerns and urged the mayor to include the provision in the bids.
"The bottom line is: This is about the quality and safety of the busing," Liu said in a statement.
Walcott and Bloomberg reiterated that a court has ruled such protections are illegal, but the union said the court decision being cited denied the provisions only for pre-K bids.
Cordiello said the provision benefits parents because it ensures that the most experienced and professional drivers will be behind the wheel.