A labor dispute between one of Long Island's largest school bus operators and its drivers has some parents worried about a potential strike if the parties fail to reach a resolution at a federal mediation meeting Wednesday.
Timothy Lynch is president of Teamsters Local 1205, which represents bus drivers who work for Ronkonkoma-based Baumann & Sons Buses Inc. and its affiliate, ACME Buses.
Lynch said a strike would remove 1,200 drivers from about 800 buses that usually deliver students to and from Long Island schools daily during the school year.
"We are insisting he [president Ronald Baumann] do the right thing by his workers," Lynch said. "There are hundreds of people making between $11 and $13 an hour and change. Our members are going to food pantries. Our members can't afford health insurance."
Jim Poisella Jr., Baumann/ACME's human resources director, said officials hope to reach a resolution through mediation Wednesday. He declined to discuss the company's plans if workers strike.
"We're going to do the very best that we can to cover all the work," he said. "Hopefully that's [the strike] not going to happen, but there has to be some preparation."
The union sent out a letter Aug. 26 notifying dozens of school districts across Long Island that contract with the bus company about the likelihood of a strike. The letter, which also went out to the many private schools, special needs schools and BOCES centers that use Baumann/ACME to transport students, said if a strike did happen, it wouldn't be until Wednesday, at the earliest.
The Middle Country Central School District in Brookhaven notified parents of the potential lack of transportation through robocalls at the end of last week, and through a letter on its website saying parents will be expected to find transportation if the strike does occur.
"It's causing anxiety for all of us, my son included," Linda Murdock, of Selden, said of her son Timothy, who is entering the seventh grade. The 12-year-old's bus route was one that would go out of service.
Middle Country owns and operates 65 buses, including five small ones. It contracts with Baumann/ACME for 11 large buses and about 70 smaller ones, Superintendent Roberta Gerold said Monday.
"We didn't hear the urgency from Baumann/ACME; we heard the urgency from the Teamsters union, which I appreciated," Gerold said.
She said district officials could not have predicted the labor issue when they awarded the contract.
"Ultimately, we do take responsibility for it," Gerold said. "I'm frustrated . . . It's not my contract to negotiate, but whenever my kids are impacted, I get frustrated."
Three Village Central School District also posted a notice of the potential strike on its website.
School districts aren't allowed to enter into new or emergency contracts before an actual work stoppage, so any action to replace the bus service in the interim can't take place unless and until a strike actually takes place.
Middle Country is telling parents it will reimburse them the cost of one, one-way trip per day if the Baumann/ACME buses stop running. The district would pay the money up front and then seek reimbursement from the state Education Department.
The Bayport Blue Point school district also posted a notice about possible bus problems over the weekend.
It's standard for school bus contracts to include a "performance bond," or insurance in case the contractor can't fulfill their obligations, said Alan Groveman, a former superintendent of Connetquot school district who worked in the state's education system for more than 40 years.
"There are not a whole lot of bus companies out there on the Island, and as a result, if Baumann/ACME fails to deliver, it's going to be very difficult for any other bus company to pick up the numbers and buses and routes to make this work in a short time span," he said.
He said that, given Baumann/ACME's reach on Long Island, some districts could opt to work together sharing buses and drivers.