2013-02-01 / Columnists

Eye On Rockaway

Striking For The Children? Not!; Sandy Bill Passed
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

When the school bus strike started the public was told by school bus drivers, matrons and their union bosses that they were doing it for the safety of the children. In reality it is, and always has been, about job protection or EPPs – Employee Protection Provisions that the union wants in any new agreement with bus companies, and that the city says is illegal.

This all started because the city wants to finally put the bus routes up for bid in an effort to save money, but the Department of Education says it is illegal to require EPPs for current drivers and matrons. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled against the city and Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union disallowing EPPs. In part the ruling said “A brief look at the history of New York City's public busing contracts since 1979 suggests that, in practice, the EPPs have had anticompetitive and cost-inflating effects.”

The state legislature passed a bill allowing EPPs in such contracts, but Governor Cuomo vetoed it.

One union member is reportedly to have said, and I paraphrase, the inconvenience in the short run will be worth it in the long run.

Tell that to the families who have had to adjust their schedules, figure out who does the dropping off at school and the picking up, where the extra money comes from if they need to drive or take a car service, and if necessary who stays home with the child and who doesn’t if they can’t get in to the school.

Special needs children receive approximately 1/3 of the city’s school busing. It is these youngsters who are suffering the most. Since the strike the absence rate for these students has been reported in the 60 percent range. These children, some who are speech delayed or autistic, or in wheelchairs all have had their lives disrupted.

The Daily News has been documenting some of these cases. One mother has kept her son home because they can’t get into school. He is physically disabled. She can move his legs around every now and then but can’t give him the services he would get at school. For some children it is a trauma to travel on public transportation or take a cab. And they are missing the daily services they receive.

Reports now are that the bus companies have hired replacement drivers and trained other drivers to act as matrons. Yet, despite the news reports of this, on Tuesday parents I know have not been notified of this. Newly trained matrons worry some par-ents who have special needs children and worry if these people are trained sufficiently to take care of their children.

I have always been pro-union, but this strike is wrong. A meeting on Monday between the union and bus companies produced nothing and the union still insists on the Mayor or one of his representatives being at the table. Something Bloomberg said will not happen. Monday’s mediator was not hopeful for a quick solution. Meanwhile the union is striking against the city who are not their employers, the bus companies are. The National Labor Relations Board is getting ready to rule on a complaint that the union is holding a secondary strike against them by striking against the city. And even if the ruling goes against the union the NLRB will have to get a court order to get the strikers back to work.

And around and around we go and where it stops no one knows. The workers are striking to save their jobs. The city cannot legally put those provisions in any new contracts they sign with bus companies. In the meantime, the ones really losing here are the children and the parents who are in the middle of a rock and a hard place – especially the ones who are special education.

If the union really cares about the children they will return to work. The city also has a method to resolve this, if it is not already in the bidding proposals. The Appeals Court suggested that the same goal of hiring could be achieved by simply adding “the imposition of an experience requirement in the bidding specifications” and the union accepts it.

That would be for the children.

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Finally! Ninety-one days after superstorm Sandy struck, the remainder of the federal disaster assistance requested by President Obama got final congressional approval as a bill for $50.5 billion was passed by the Senate on Monday. The House passed the bill earlier this month. The total relief package comes to $60.4 billion. Now the rebuilding can really begin.

Only nine Republicans crossed party lines to join Democrats in passing the bill in a 62-36 vote. Those 36 Republican senators who voted against the aid should be ashamed of themselves. Republicans wanted to make sure that the money disaster aid would not increase the federal debt by cutting federal programs across the board by 1/2 of 1 percent through 2021. That amendment was defeated. In the past disasters have been treated as emergency spending and not off-set by any kind of cuts. But by next October the $3.4 billion for the Army Corp of Engineers must be offset by some sort of spending cuts in programs. This money is crucial for places like Rockaway, for it is to be used to develop protections – such as jetties and seawalls – against damage from future storms.

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