Commentary Magazine


Will Liberals Meet Reality on the NYC School Bus Strike?

In the New York Post last week, John wrote an excellent piece on the latest union-taxpayer showdown in New York City–the school bus driver strike that began earlier this month. This battle, like many across the country for oversized compensation for unionized workers that outpaces a municipality’s ability to pay, could shape the financial future of New York City for years to come. In the Post John explained, 

You should watch this one closely, whether you have kids who’ve been kicked off a bus or not, because it’s a sneak preview of what is likely to be coming over the next decade in municipalities across the country.

These workers aren’t city employees. They work for private companies. The city’s contracts with those companies are up in June. The city plans to bid out the work.

It has to. You want it to. Trust me: Under the terms of the current contracts, providing this bus service costs — I hope you’re sitting down before you read this next clause — $7,000 a year per passenger.

That’s seven grand per kid.

Predictably, the unions have spent a considerable amount of time, effort and money trying to convince parents that their children would be safest in the hands of unionized drivers. The New York Post reported on the statistics regarding bus accidents with supposedly safer unionized drivers yesterday: 

Buses with public-school contracts were involved in more than 1,700 accidents in which the driver was at fault in each of the past five years for which numbers are available, according to statistics compiled by the city’s Department of Education.

The incidents range from minor fender-benders to collisions that resulted in 912 injuries in 2011, the latest year for which stats are available.

A year earlier, there were 1,792 accidents resulting in two deaths and 1,796 injuries.

Despite this bloody record, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 claims its crippling bus strike is being waged in the best interests of its student passengers — because only its members can do the job safely.

While thousands of New York City parents have been inconvenienced, the strike has hit the city’s disabled students the hardest. The New York Daily News reported on the heartbreaking reality for students who rely on school transportation to provide them with physical therapy and social interaction. The strike has left these vulnerable students homebound indefinitely, setting back progress they may have been making not only educationally, but also physically and emotionally. 

The former head of the MTA (the city’s transportation authority), Joe Lhota, recently announced his bid for mayor as a Republican, immediately shaking up the field of contenders. On Fox 5 New York this week Lhota commented on the strike,

These are private sector bus drivers who want to be treated as civil servants. That’s a very, very slippery slope that we’d go down. This is a contract arrangement between a private company… and these bus drivers. These bus drivers aren’t like transit authority workers, they are private sector workers, but they want the same benefits… The mayor is absolutely correct. The courts have held that what the union is asking for is illegal. You should not negotiate when something is illegal. 

The perceived mayoral front-runner, Christine Quinn, refuses to get involved in the debate, despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s hard line with the strikers. If the dispute outlasts Bloomberg’s administration (ending in November), which it may, its future under a new mayor is still very much up in the air. Candidates’ stances on the strike could play an outsized role in the race for parents and grandparents inconvenienced for the remaining months of the school year. 

While the strike is a local issue for residents of New York, it is yet another example of how unions across the country, despite claims regarding their competency and dedication, are interested in their own bottom lines and little else. For New Yorkers famous for their extremely liberal voting records, this could be a very rude awakening about the reality of union conflicts across the country.