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February 20, 2019

City lawmakers, labor leaders call on Cuomo to back job protections for school bus drivers and matrons

February 11, 2019
City lawmakers and labor leaders want Albany to get on board with ensuring job protections for school bus drivers and matrons. (Getty Images)

City lawmakers and labor leaders want politicians in Albany to get behind the wheel of job protections for school bus drivers and matrons — and they’re making their case in a campaign dubbed “Driving Our Future.”

Launching on Monday, the campaign wants “Employee Protection Provisions” to be written into this year’s state budget, and calls for guarantees that drivers and matrons retain seniority rights, as well as salary and benefits, whenever the Department of Education switches or updates contracts with private bus companies.

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City Councilman Mark Treyger, the education committee chairman, has written to Gov. Cuomo, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), encouraging them to “adopt language in this year’s budget package that will protect good union jobs and benefits in New York City’s school bus system and ensure that our children are driven by experienced, well-trained drivers.” Several other Council members signed off on the letter.

Cuomo vetoed legislation in 2016 that would have protected the jobs and benefits regardless of which companies won contracts for busing city kids to school. In doing so, he cited a 2011 decision by the state Court of Appeals that the protection provisions crimped competition and were costly for the city.

After that ruling, the protections were eliminated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

However, Mayor Bill de Blasio has used a grant program to subsidize drivers, drawing criticism from some lawmakers and the nonprofit Citizens Budget Commission.

“It’s time we give dignity back to those workers who devote their lives to transporting the schoolchildren of New York City,” Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 president Michael Cordiello said. “This can only be done if the governor and legislative leaders include it in this year’s budget.”

NYC Central Labor Council President Vinny Alvarez agrees.

“The governor and the legislature have an opportunity now to bring an end to this crisis and ensure that hardworking New York City school bus workers and their families will once again be treated fairly,” Alvarez said.

“Like all proposals, we’ll review it if it is introduced,” Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi told the Daily News.

Tiffany Caldwell, with daughter Taylor, an 11-year-old special needs student in East New York, wants lawmakers to ensure protections for school bus drivers and matrons.
Tiffany Caldwell, with daughter Taylor, an 11-year-old special needs student in East New York, wants lawmakers to ensure protections for school bus drivers and matrons. (Handout)

The push for job protections comes months after officials launched an investigation of yellow bus companies under contract with the city.

Last year, The Daily New exposed service issues plaguing hundreds of city students and uncovered a vetting system that allowed people with serious criminal histories to work on yellow buses.

Opponents of the job protections argue that enshrining so-called “EEPs” doesn’t make fiscal sense for the city.

“I think flexibility to negotiate contracts and securing savings is important for the city, and important for the state since pupil transportation is in fact partly paid for through state funds,” said Ana Champeny, the director of city studies at the Citizens Budget Commission. “It’s a costly proposition. It adds a cost to the city, the state and the taxpayers.”

But Brooklyn mom Tiffany Caldwell thinks protections that would help keep school bus workers in their jobs would be worthwhile.

“My daughter’s matron is like a part of our family,” says Caldwell, whose 11-year-old daughter Taylor has special needs. “Our matron knows when my daughter needs a hug, when she needs to be comforted, even when she needs a shoulder to cry on. Just the thought of losing Taylor’s matron or driver is devastating.”

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