Boston Public Schools announced the United Steelworkers of America Local 8751, which represents some 700 school bus drivers in the city, staged an illegal strike Tuesday to disrupt bus service to students in BPS, private, parochial and charter schools.
Only 30 of the school system’s 650 buses were operating Tuesday morning, stranding more than 30,000 children, as a result of a disagreement between the district’s new bus contractor, Veolia Transportation, and the union.
“This action is an unacceptable attempt to shut down our entire school system because the union is unhappy with efforts to increase safety and improve on-time service," said BPS Interim Superintendent John McDonough. “By failing to work, these drivers are denying children their rides to school and are inconveniencing thousands of families.”
Specifically, the union is opposed to changes that BPS officials attest are designed to ensure driver safety and suitability and to improve on-time performance, including a new Web-based tool that allows families to track the location of their child’s school bus.
“At this time, the protest involves approximately 300 drivers who are refusing to operate school buses today. This means nearly half of the 33,000 students who ride school buses will be impacted,” stated BPS.
While schools remain open on normal schedules, BPS officials cautioned families to expect significant school bus delays and some trip cancellations. Because of this disruption, students will not be marked tardy and absences will be considered “excused.”
The local police stepped in by helping children get to school and directing them to public transportation, which was free for students with valid ID.
At a press conference Monday afternoon, Mayor Tom Menino thanked Boston police for ensuring students were not unattended at bus stops and even shuttling kids to school in patrol cars.
He said the city would seek an injunction to require drivers to be on the job Wednesday morning.
“Today's actions are the result of a group of angry people that don't like to follow the rules. This is about the safety of our students, and I will not allow them to jeopardize their education or safety,” said Menino.
This summer BPS contracted with a new vendor, Veolia Transportation, to operate the city's bus fleet with the aim of modernizing operations and improving service and safety. Veolia agreed to continue to employ the same bus drivers who had worked under the previous provider, First Student, at the same salaries.
According to the district, Veolia has implemented the following changes:
- Additional driver certifications that match federal transportation standards;
- Requirements that all drivers must physically check in with a supervisor to ensure they are ready to operate a bus instead of taking home their keys at night;
- A computer-based payroll system that replaces paper records;
- Giving parents access to existing GPS location data via the “Where’s my School Bus” app; and
- Launching a “safety desk” to improve instant communication between drivers, dispatchers and BPS staff in an emergency.
At least one bus driver expressed his concern about the GPS monitoring devices that allow parents to track their child's bus. Fausto Darosa told Fox News the drivers would be in support of the devices if they were intended for safety, but he believes this is not their only function.
"We think it's for disciplining drivers," said Darosa.