A school bus drops off students in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. A strike by New York City school bus drivers that had been threatened for weeks will start Wednesday morning, affecting 152,000 students, the president of the union representing the drivers announced Monday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
NEW YORK (AP) — A school bus strike that would leave 152,000 New York City children scrambling to get to school was nearing, as parents tried to find whatever transportation alternatives they could.
After Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union announced Monday that more than 8,000 bus drivers and matrons would strike starting Wednesday, city school officials announced plans to distribute MetroCards to students who can take city buses and subways to school and to reimburse parents who must drive or take taxis.
"We are putting plans in place to address the strike," Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Tuesday. "We are going to get our children to school."
The drivers' contracts expire on June 30, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the city must seek competitive bids to save money.
The union wants job security for existing drivers maintained under the new contracts, but the city says that the state Court of Appeals has barred it from including such provisions because of competitive bidding laws.
Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello said that's not true.
"Despite public pronouncements by the mayor and the chancellor, the employee protection program is perfectly legal," Cordiello said. "How is it illegal to provide the most experienced drivers and matrons in the school buses??
Cordiello said his members' average salary is $35,000 a year. He said bus matrons start at $11 an hour and drivers start at $14 an hour. A veteran driver can make $29 an hour, Cordiello said.
The 152,000 students who rely on buses include students at some private schools and Catholic schools. Of the public school students, some 54,000 are disabled.
A line of buses carrying students in wheelchairs waited outside Public School 138 in Manhattan's Chelsea section Tuesday morning.
Driver Henri Michel said bus matrons have to carry some of the children from their third- or fourth-floor apartments and put them on the buses. He worried what would happen to those children if there's a strike.
"Is a yellow cab going to go upstairs and get the kids?" Michel asked. "No, a yellow cab is going to wait outside. I don't know how these kids are going to get to school."
Angela Peralta of Staten Island has two daughters who take buses to two different schools. She's made car pool arrangements for one daughter and will drive the other one herself. That means she'll have to leave work early to pick her daughter up.
"I hope this doesn't go on very long," Peralta said. "I'm afraid that one of these days I'm going to walk into work and they're going to say, 'You know Angela, enough is enough.'"
Cory Zacker said she'll get up early to take her son to school in Manhattan on the subway.
She said she can see both sides of the dispute.
"I understand them wanting to keep their jobs that they've had for so long, and yet I know the city has their side of the story as well," she said.