BOSTON (AP) — Boston school buses started rolling again Wednesday morning, the day after a surprise strike by about 600 drivers, but school officials warned that the dispute that led to the work stoppage was not resolved.
"We're still concerned about a similar action at any time, and we're keeping our contingency plans in place," schools spokesman Brian Ballou said, while warning that there may be delays and the buses couldn't be counted on for rides home.
The drivers' union said drivers agreed to return to work after the company contracted by the city to transport students, Veolia Transportation Inc., agreed to meet with the union on Wednesday to discuss grievances.
Mayor Tom Menino, who was outraged by the strike and vowed to use every legal avenue available to get drivers back to work and to punish those responsible for the work stoppage, called the development "very good news."
The wildcat strike Tuesday stranded about 33,000 children, who were shuttled to schools in police cars and offered free rides on public transportation. The school department said students had an 82 percent attendance rate Tuesday, about 10 percent lower than a normal day.
Boston schools opened an hour early Wednesday for parents who wanted to drop off their children before work.
Patrick Bryant, an attorney for the United Steelworkers Local 8751, said union leadership asked the nearly 700 striking drivers to return to work, including during visits with megaphones to every city bus yard Tuesday.
Bryant said the strike was not authorized by the union but led by rogue members.
Drivers picketing outside the bus yards Tuesday said the company was not honoring the terms of their contract. They've also said they're frustrated with Veolia's treatment of them, including changes in their health care plan, failing to provide key route information and ineffective communications.
Schools spokesman Lee McGuire said the walkout was prompted, in part, by the union's opposition to a GPS system that allows parents to track buses online in real time.
On Tuesday afternoon, Veolia moved to force the drivers back to work, but a federal judge turned down the request.
Veolia had requested a temporary injunction against the drivers' union. But Bryant called the request for an injunction against the union "Kabuki theater," because the union opposes the strike and has tried to get drivers back on the job.
"(Veolia's attorney) wants an injunction purely for the theater and the drama and to represent to the people that he's doing something," he said.
But Veolia's attorneys argued it strains credibility to believe that the union isn't behind a near universal work stoppage involving hundreds of members.
"This was beyond the actions of a few rogue members," attorney Paul Hodnett said.
U.S. District Judge George O'Toole sided with the union, saying an injunction wasn't appropriate, at least until it's clear whether drivers would return to work Wednesday.
The strike was particularly disrupting for Michelle Novelle, a mother of nine. Six attend public school, including two autistic children who are normally picked up by school buses at the family's Roslindale home.
She said she learned of the walkout through an automated call from the city shortly after 6 a.m.
Novelle's oldest child took public transit to her high school and she drove the other five to the three different schools they attend. She pulled it off, though she added it was "nearly impossible."
Associated Press writers Bob Salsberg, Bridget Murphy and Jay Lindsay contributed to this report.