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Bus strike continues; one district moves to nix Baumann contract

Students are dropped off at Archer Street Elementary

Students are dropped off at Archer Street Elementary School in Freeport by Guardian Bus Co. on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, as the strike by TWU Local 252 drivers, monitors and mechanics continues against Baumann & Sons Buses Inc. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Talks in the school bus strike affecting more than 20,000 Nassau County students broke off Tuesday night, even as trustees in one of four affected districts voted unanimously to terminate that system’s contract with Baumann & Sons Buses Inc. at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

“We are still on strike,” Debra Hagan, president of Transport Workers Union Local 252, said in an interview. “We are not at an agreement.” The next date for negotiations is Nov. 28, she said.

“We are disappointed by the union’s unreasonable position throughout bargaining,” company president Ronald Baumann said in a statement. “The company remains committed to completing the work that it can for the school districts it can service with the many employees who have crossed the picket line to help the company bring the children to school.”

Hagan has said that about 10 of the union’s members have crossed the picket lines.

For many students in the Baldwin, Freeport, Hicksville and Rockville Centre districts and their families, the lack of a resolution means a continued scramble as the strike — which began Nov. 6 — drags into an eighth weekday. The job action also affects students in private schools for whom those systems provide service.

Meanwhile, the Rockville Centre school board, at its second emergency meeting in as many days, voted 5-0 to end its contract with Baumann as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. The action came after trustees met in executive session with legal counsel for about an hour.

The board’s resolution, read aloud by president John O’Shea, said the company “substantially breached its contractual obligations to the school district, including but not limited to failure to supply sufficient school buses and/or workers to perform the student transportation services of the contract.”

In an interview afterward, O’Shea said the board’s “main concern is our students getting to school and no disruption in their education.”

Superintendent William Johnson said, “It’s all about consistency of service and getting our kids to school . . . Baumann has shown to us that they are unwilling or unable to provide that service up to this point and, consequently, the board has decided — I think wisely — that we need to move forward.”

The Freeport school board also held a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss the transportation crisis, but did not take any action.

That district on Tuesday advertised a request for proposals for student transportation, with bids to be opened on Monday afternoon. The RFP specifies that the contract would run through June 30.

More than 300 drivers, monitors and mechanics have been striking against the Ronkonkoma-based company.

The parties have been at loggerheads 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.

Officials in the four districts have cobbled together a patchwork of alternatives, bringing in other companies to cover routes and asking parents to arrange for ferrying students to and from schools.

Hicksville Superintendent Carl Bonuso, in a statement, said, “We are continuing to work with our legal counsel and making significant progress in creating an appropriate solution.”

A statement on the Baldwin district’s website noted the legal challenges of securing alternate bus service, and said “all elementary school students have been serviced since the beginning of the strike. We are currently looking for middle school, high school and private school runs.”

Service in the Rockville Centre and Freeport districts has included use of some Baumann buses. Both also have brought in Oceanside-based Guardian Bus Co. to cover some routes, and Freeport has hired First Student Bus Co., which has a local yard.

Freeport school officials said Tuesday that Guardian has offered to provide more buses for special-education students in grades five through 12, likely beginning Thursday.

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 reached an agreement.

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