NLRB to Rule on NYC School Bus Drivers’ Strike
As the bus drivers’ strike in New York City rolls into its third week, the National Labor Relations Board is preparing to release a decision in the contentious case that has locked down buses that take 150,000 children to public schools in the city every day.
‘My Name’s Mike, and That’s between Y’all’
The strike started on Jan. 16 in response to plans by the city to rebid its contracts with school bus companies – contracts that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said are too expensive and fraught with corruption. Workers in Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union are angry that protections for their jobs aren’t being included in the process.
About a third of the children who are bused have special needs. Workers on buses that serve special needs kids must be trained and certified, and the current drivers and matrons say they’ve dedicated years to their jobs, according to CBS News.
The Mayor allowed the bus companies to meet with the workers at Gracie Mansion on Jan. 28, his official residence in Manhattan. But he refused to show up, saying the beef is between the companies and the workers, who respond by saying nothing can be decided if the city doesn’t take part in the negotiations.
Striking workers on a picket line in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn told Laywers.com that they were angry that the mayor refused to meet with them. “He’s doing us like he did the teachers,” one said.
Strikes Are Rare
They face a difficult path to retaining their jobs. On Jan. 29, bus companies began using replacement workers, who underwent a quick training and had to maneuver through picket lines around the city to reach the buses.
If their companies can secure bids – which may be doubtful given the city’s attitude toward the current contractors – the workers must negotiate with them, not the city.
“The city isn’t opposed to some of the things that the drivers want (like job security), so if the companies that won the bids agreed to provide what the drivers want, then everyone will be happy,” says Jeffrey Hirsch, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who teaches labor law. “Realistically though, I’m not sure what the chances of that happening are.”
Bus drivers in other states have seen mixed results when protesting their working conditions. Unionized workers in Savannah, Ga., staged sit-ins and protests and were forced to sue the state department of labor at the end of 2012. Unionized bus drivers in Beloit, Wis., authorized but did not go through with a strike in October 2012; their company eventually negotiated a new contract with them.
Public school bus driver strikes are not very common, Hirsch says, “in part, because a lot of districts contract out the contracts to private companies, which have lower rates of unionization. Not that you have to be unionized to strike, but it helps a lot.”
NLRB Gets Involved
In New York, the bus companies have complained to the NLRB about the striking workers, and the agency is investigating the situation to determine whether the employees are violating the National Labor Relations Act.
“It first has to go first through an administrative hearing and then the NLRB — which can take years in bigger cases, although it can be months in the fastest cases,” observes Hircsh. The NLRB could seek an injunction forcing the drivers and matrons back onto the buses.
An NLRB spokesperson tells Lawyers.com that “the investigation in this case has been completed and the results forwarded to the Division of Advice in Washington Headquarters for review.”
“We hope to have a decision in the case sometime this week,” says the spokesperson, who declined to address any specifics of the case until a decision is released.