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Bus company, union to talk Tuesday with bus strike in 2nd week

William Johnson, superintendent of the Rockville Centre school district, spoke with Newsday as the Baumann school bus strike entered a second week on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. The bus company and a union representing drivers, monitors and mechanics are scheduled to resume talks with a federal mediator on Tuesday. Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware

Negotiations to settle a weeklong strike that has disrupted school bus service for more than 20,000 Nassau County students are scheduled for Tuesday, while school officials continue to buckle down and bring in other companies to cover routes.

More than 300 drivers, monitors and mechanics with Transport Workers Union Local 252 have been striking against Baumann & Sons Buses Inc. of Ronkonkoma since Nov. 6, affecting service in the Baldwin, Freeport, Hicksville and Rockville Centre districts.

Talks overseen by a federal mediator are to resume Tuesday morning. The parties have been wrangling over payment to drivers on days off in the school calendar, as well as sick days and snow days. Large-bus drivers make $28,000 annually on average, according to the union.

As stressed parents continued Monday to ferry children to and from school and buses from companies other than Baumann hauled scores of students, there were signs that district administrators were laying more groundwork for action, if the company and the union do not reach agreement.

There also have been fissures in the union’s solidarity. Union president Debra Hagan said on Sunday that about 10 of the union’s members have crossed the picket lines.

The Rockville Centre district held an emergency board meeting Monday afternoon to “discuss transportation” as well as “contracts and potential litigation,” Superintendent William Johnson said. After convening in executive session for more than an hour, Johnson announced that the board plans to hold another emergency meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Johnson said the district had secured eight more buses from Oceanside-based Guardian Bus Co. on Monday. It also is using employees from Baumann who are not striking.

With those arrangements, Johnson said, transportation for 90 percent of the district’s 1,300 students who ride the bus should be covered.

“Not everyone in this community has a car,” he said, noting his worry for students whose families are of a lower socioeconomic status. “This is literally a day-to-day operation.”

A spokeswoman for Hicksville schools said “the district is working with our attorneys on an alternative busing solution.”

The Freeport district has arranged for a mix of Baumann, Guardian and the First Student Bus Co., which has a Freeport bus yard.

On Monday morning, more than a dozen Guardian buses pulled into the courtyard at Freeport’s Archer Street Elementary School and dropped off students beginning around 9 a.m., with a few buses arriving around 10:15 a.m., about an hour after classes began.

Parents at Archer mostly were relieved that the district had hired an outside bus firm, but less than half of Archer students who normally use the bus took it on Monday, principal Paula Lein said.

Alex and Reyna Duque of Freeport decided to drop their son off Monday, though the boy usually takes the bus. Alex Duque, 40, said he hopes the strike ends soon, but driving to school “hasn’t been too difficult” for them.

Outside Freeport’s Caroline G. Atkinson Intermediate School, where no bus service was available Monday, there was a long line of cars in an area typically reserved for school bus traffic, with parents dropping off their fifth- and sixth-graders.

Freeport Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said attendance has not dropped during the strike. “We wanted to make parents feel comfortable and so [we] gave them the option of using the bus or dropping their children off early,” he said.

Chevonne Thomas, 33, of Freeport, who dropped off one of her two children at Atkinson before heading to her job, said she has had to rearrange her work schedule and take vacation time because of the situation.

“It’s certainly affected us,” Thomas said.

Tuesday’s negotiations will be the third in a series of talks between the union and company officials that have been attended by a federal mediator since the strike began.

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