2004-12-24 / Community

Green Bus Employees Authorize Strike

By Miriam Rosenberg Contributing Editor

By Miriam Rosenberg
Contributing Editor

After two years working without a contract and without knowing if and when the MTA would take over the private subsidized bus companies serving New York City, the situation hit a boiling point this week when members of Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 1179 (representing Green Bus Lines) and 1181 (representing Command Bus Company) voted to authorize a strike.

On Thursday, roughly half of the drivers at Green Bus called in sick, and the rest of the company’s buses were kept off the road due to what employees were terming “mechanical problems.”

Drivers at Command Bus were into the third day of a sickout on Thursday.

The previous Sunday, workers at Command voted overwhelmingly for the strike. Union members at Green Bus followed suit on Monday.

“We have families, and all we’re asking for are our pension and welfare benefits to stay in tact when the MTA takes us over. That’s all,” Salvatore Battaglia, president and business agent for Local 1181, told television reporters Monday evening.

Almost 200 drivers at Command staged a sickout on Tuesday and

Wednesday. On Wednesday morning, Green Bus mechanics began reporting massive problems with the buses. By mid-day, the Green Buses fleet was off the road.

“Green Bus has a current fleet of about 240 buses,” said Jamie Van Bramer of the Transit Alliance, which the two companies are part of. “We were supposed to have about 200 go out this morning. Twenty went out, and all came back in after drivers found mechanical difficulties.”

Van Bramer said that Green Bus drivers and mechanics are “going over the buses with a fine tooth comb.” If any problems are found, no matter what, the workers are removing the buses from the road.

“We share their frustration. We’re frustrated with the city, but we’re disappointed it had to come to this,” Van Bramer continued. “It didn’t provide us any opportunity to notify riders.”

Jordan Barowitz, of the mayor’s office, said the city met with the union Tuesday evening.

“We met last night and stand ready to [meet anytime]…to urge them not to strike, not to inconvenience riders in Brooklyn and Queens this holiday season,” Barowitz told The Wave. “We urge them to come back to figure out a way where we don’t have to inconvenience thousands of people.”

Tom DeMarinis, the secretary of Local 1179, stated the union’s position.

“Our problems are medical,” DeMarinis said. “Prices are going through the roof. We met with the OLR (Office of Labor Relations) last night. Nothing came out of it. We owe GHI a lot of money. They tell us to hold tight until the takeover. They don’t want to give us a contract or help us with the medical.

“We would like to have additional meetings. We were willing to stay all night [Tuesday], but when it is just cut and dry then it’s time to go.”

In response to Green Bus mechanics and drivers pulling the buses off the road, DeMarinis said, “the buses are old. They’re falling apart.” Local 1181 did not return a phone call for comment. The city says the two companies serve 70,000 riders in Queens and Brooklyn, yet Van Bramer puts that number much higher.

“What we’re saying is [Green Bus] makes 120,000 trips a day,” said Van Bramer, who said the total riders who are inconvenienced is closer to 135,000 including Command Bus riders.

“It could be 60,000 people, but most people make two trips. Command makes 15,000 trips a day.”

Workers and riders have a lot at stake.

Jamar Hayes, who drives the Green Bus Q22 in Rockaway, spoke with The Wave.

“[We’re] going out for a cause,” said Hayes. “If we don’t fight for what we want and we settle for less….they’re trying to take over and throw us anything.

“Now we pay $10 toward our benefits. Now they want $50 out of our check. What MTA [workers] pay.”

He explained that any job action is against the city, not the riders.

“People feel their jobs are threatened,” Hayes continued.

Hayes admitted that a strike would be a hindrance to thousands of riders Delores Bailey of Beach 54 Street among them.

“I would have to take the train around Brooklyn to get to Jamaica,” said Bailey, a regular Q22 rider.

She said an alternative route would add almost 25 minutes to her trip. As an asthmatic, the extra walking involved could be a problem.

Councilman James Sanders Jr., a member of the Transportation Committee, talked about the buses.

“Sadly this is the results of the MTA’s incompetence where, if you had two years to prepare and this is the best we can do, we have to look at the masterminds at the MTA,” Sanders said. “I call upon all parties to move back from the edge, [listen] to the voice of reason. My constituents are hurting big time and can’t get to work or school.”

On Wednesday, the mayor’s office discredited a story on the Daily News website that said the $132 million in federal money that Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on November 23 would be used to buy 300 new buses for the private fleets would, instead, be used to buy new subway cars.

“That is absolutely not true,” said Barowitz. “State law says that the MTA can’t use federal money to buy buses.

What the MTA did was put the money into one account and took it out [of another] to buy buses.

“The 300 buses are ordered and should be here in the spring.”

The new deadline for the MTA to takeover Green Bus, Jamaica Bus,

Triboro Coach and Command Bus is April 30.

A posting on the city’s website (www. NYC.gov) advises anyone affected by the disruption in bus service to take alternative mass transportation, commuter vans or car services. The city authorized licensed vans to pick up passengers along the B100, Q6, Q10, Q11 and Q40 routes.

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