Leaders of Baumann & Sons Buses Inc. and the striking drivers’ union are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Friday morning in a labor dispute that has disrupted service all week for more than 20,000 students in Nassau County public and private schools.
Students in the Baldwin, Freeport, Hicksville and Rockville Centre districts have been without their regular rides to and from schools on Ronkonkoma-based Baumann’s vehicles. The Transport Workers Union Local 252, which represents nearly 400 drivers, monitors and mechanics, began striking at 5 a.m. Monday.
As the talks overseen by a federal mediator resume Friday, only the Rockville Centre system’s schools will be open. The other three districts are closed in observance of Veterans Day — as are most, if not all, of the private schools whose students receive bus transportation from the affected districts.
Rockville Centre Superintendent William Johnson said the district secured transport Friday for all 1,300 students who use the system’s buses, with service by Guardian Bus Co. in Oceanside and Baumann.
With most schools closed, he said, more drivers are available to fill the gap in coverage. By comparison, the district’s contingency plans covered bus rides Thursday for more than 60 percent of its students.
“Until I get back to 100 percent, I’m not going to be happy and every day is an adventure,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to put together more service and more runs.”
He said the district could decide to cancel its contracts with Baumann. “That’s a possibility if they don’t settle this,” he said, noting that “becomes more of a possibility” each day.
Baumann representatives did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Union president Debra Hagan said in reference to the company and its president, Ronald Baumann, “The school districts are looking for permanent transportation to be provided by Baumann, and if he’s not going to provide permanent transportation, then districts will seek permanent transportation elsewhere.”
In Hicksville on Thursday morning, a steady stream of cars pulled in front of Woodland Elementary School starting at about 8:15 a.m., with educators awaiting students who were dropped off at the front door. Classes start there at 9 a.m.
Goksel Gul, 42, who has lived in Hicksville for 13 years, has four children, with three attending public schools — two in elementary grades and a son in high school. The family lives close enough to Woodland Elementary for him to walk there with his two youngest children, but he has had to drive his son — who usually takes the bus — to the high school and make arrangements for afternoon pickup.
“It hasn’t been that difficult, but sometimes inconvenient,” he said Thursday morning. He hopes the strike is resolved soon. “It’s making everyone’s life a little bit difficult.”
School bus strikes are rare on Long Island. This job action, according to Newsday’s records, is the first since September 2003, which affected about 12,000 students in eastern Suffolk County districts. That strike lasted three days until the parties reached an agreement.
In the current dispute, Baumann and the union last held negotiations in a session that went from 4:30 p.m. Tuesday until 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. Among the issues are wage increases and payment to drivers on days off in the school calendar, as well as what is called “charter pay.” The union’s drivers want a greater percentage of wages for transporting students on field trips during the school day, Hagan said.