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Nassau school bus strike entering 2nd week after talks break down

Students at strike-affected South Side Middle School in

Students at strike-affected South Side Middle School in Rockville Centre school district get on Baumann & Sons buses on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

A labor dispute that has snarled bus service for 20,000 Nassau County students enters a second week Monday as school district officials explore hiring other companies to resolve the transportation crisis.

Talks between the Transport Workers Union Local 252 and Baumann & Sons Buses Inc. of Ronkonkoma broke down Friday after a daylong negotiating session with a federal mediator.

The union, comprising more than 300 bus drivers, monitors and mechanics, has been on strike since Nov. 6. The drivers serve students in the Baldwin, Freeport, Hicksville and Rockville Centre school districts. Talks are scheduled to resume Tuesday with the federal mediator.

The Freeport district on Monday plans to use drivers from outside bus companies for the first time since the strike began, Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said Sunday.

Kuncham said the district over the weekend secured full coverage for students in the system’s five elementary schools, as well as for students bused to three private schools. The district is using a combination of service from Baumann employees, Oceanside-based Guardian Bus Co. and the First Student Bus Co., which maintains a Freeport bus yard.

“Hopefully if things work out, we are in much better shape” for the start of the week, Kuncham said. “Going forward after Tuesday, we really have to make some serious decisions.”

District officials plan to seek a request for proposals agreement “from various companies,” he said.

The Rockville Centre school district has already been using Guardian, which along with Baumann employees has covered roughly 60 percent of service for its students.

“If the two sides aren’t interested in resolving it, we’re going to have to consider other options for resolving it ourselves,” Rockville Centre Superintendent William Johnson said Sunday. He noted that he had been speaking with district counsel but declined to identify the alternatives under consideration.

“The members are still out on strike; we’re still actively seeking a settlement to this strike,” union president Debra Hagan said.

A spokeswoman for Baumann could not be reached for comment. Company president Ronald Baumann said in a statement Friday, after the talks had ended, that “the union’s strike benefits no one. We wish the union would reconsider its position and commit to resolving its issues on fair and reasonable terms.”

The sides are divided on wage increases and payment to drivers on days off in the school calendar. The drivers also are seeking a greater percentage of “charter pay,” or wages for transporting students to field trips during the school day. The average driver, operating a “large” school bus, makes roughly $28,000 annually, Hagan said.

“These kids deserve to go to school every day and get an education, and these parents deserve to go to work and go back to their normal lives,” Guardian spokesman Corey Muirhead said. “Guardian Bus is fortunate enough that we’re in a situation to help, so we are and we wish to do all that we can.”

The school bus strike is the first on Long Island since September 2003, according to Newsday’s archives. That job action, affecting about 12,000 students in eastern Suffolk County districts, lasted three days until the parties eventually reached an agreement.

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