(Update) Menino, education officials slam Boston school bus drivers for illegal wildcat strike
Calling the 635 Boston school bus drivers who staged an illegal and unannounced work strike today “selfish people who only want to cause disruption to our city,” Mayor Thomas Menino said it was unclear whether drivers would return to their jobs Wednesday.
“This is extremely frustrating for (parents),” Menino said at 6:15 p.m. press conference at City Hall. “I don’t blame them for being angry. I’m angry.”
A federal judge on Tuesday denied an emergency injunction request that would have, essentially, forced the drivers to return to work.
The MBTA will provide students with free transportation Wednesday, and Boston Public Schools will open one hour earlier than usual to accommodate alternative transportation arrangements.
More than 33,000 students are affected by the strike. Despite the disruption, 82 percent of Boston students were in class yesterday, Menino said.
“This union can’t stop our schools from educationg our young ones. The only thing in jeopardy is their own livelihood,” he said of the striking drivers.
Drivers who belong to the United Steelworkers of America Local 8751 union staged the wildcat strike in protest of tight driving schedules, lack of bathroom breaks, the elimination of Daily Bus Reports and extensive payroll problems.
On Tuesday, workers at the yard watched the news as local media aired coverage of the strike. Some meandered around the grounds, which were packed with buses, while others sat at tables inside an employee area, playing cards.
“It’s not that we don’t want to drive kids to school. We love driving the kids. We want to make sure they get to school on time, and have breakfast. I wouldn’t be doing this for 23 years if I didn’t love it,” said Olysa Brument, a driver and union chief steward.
Brument said drivers have reached their breaking point due to what they consider to be heightened demands imposed by Veolia Transportation, a public transportation company that took over the system’s bus contract this summer. The company assumed responsibility for operational management of the city’s school bus services in July, but since the school year began, Brument said drivers worry about hitting traffic and red lights because their routes are so tight.
“It is unsafe for us to drive and worry about timing. We often have no bathroom breaks. We do push ourselves to get our kids to school, and we want to be treated fairly even if we are running late. They are supposed to pay us for the full time that we drove, and they are not doing that,” said Brument. “We have no problem going to work, but we’re stressed out.”
“All you’re doing is keeping my son from going to school, keeping me from going to work,” Nanette Cromartie, who confronted striking drivers at the Freeport Street bus yard in Dorchester.
The drivers are also protesting the new web tool that allows families to track the location of their child’s school bus in real time.
The United Steelworkers District 4 Director John Shinn released a statement Tuesday condemning the strike.
“This activity does not represent the majority of our members, who believe that our issues with Veolia Transportation must be addressed through proper avenues including our contractual grievance procedure and the National Labor Relations Board,” Shinn said.
Automated phone calls went out to families Tuesday morning about the strike action. For those with questions, the district has also expanded its transportation hotline to answer families’ questions at (617) 635-9520 and the mayor’s 24-hour hotline is available at (617) 635-4500.
Families can also check the location of their school bus in real time using the ”Where’s My School Bus” app, at http://schoolbus.bostonpublicschools.org.