Boston public officials responded with criticism to a surprise strike of 600 Boston Public Schools bus drivers Tuesday morning, stating legal action will be taken against the labor union and those drivers who participated in the strike if they do not return to their posts.
In the summer months, BPS partnered with Veolia Transportation to operate the city’s buses in order to improve safety and increase modernization. Veolia implemented changes, such as additional certifications to match federal transportation standards, physical checks for drivers and GPS systems to help parents track their child’s buses, which the union representing the bus drivers opposed leading to the Tuesday strike.
Nat Anglin, bus coordinator for Neighborhood House Charter School, said the strike affected the school greatly, and he spent the majority of the day calling parents to let them know buses would not run in the afternoon so those affected could make other arrangements.
“I just don’t see this playing out well for them [bus drivers], though, because at the end of the day, this affected the kids the most, and that’s my problem with it,” he said. “Obviously, unions have agendas just like anyone else … but I feel like this was just not a good move on their part, putting kids at risk for safety issues. We were luckily able to reach everybody that rides the bus.”
Veolia Transportation filed a federal injunction Tuesday against the United Steelworkers Local 8751 union and those participating in the strike in the U.S. District Court as the strike action violated the contract between the union and Veolia.
John McDonough, interim superintendent of BPS, said in a Tuesday statement that the strike is a result of angry drivers who oppose new safety measures.
“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,” he said. “By failing to work, these drivers are denying children their rides to school and are inconveniencing thousands of families.”
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said in a press conference Tuesday that about 33,000 students and their parents were affected as a result of the illegal work stoppage by the bus driver’s union.
“This is totally unnecessary,” he said. “We had some rumblings about this … but they never let on when it would happen. When you don’t want to follow the rules, you go to extremes, and the bus drivers have gone to those extremes.”
Students were told that if they could not get to their school, they would be excused for their absence. BPS reported that about 82 percent of students were in attendance for school, which is about 10 percent below the average, according to a Tuesday press release from the mayor’s office.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority allowed free service for any students and parents who had a valid student ID to get to school, according to the release.
Menino said since bus driver’s intentions remain uncertain, parents should plan alternative transportation for their children on Wednesday.
“Our young people should not be hurt because of selfish people who only want to cause disruption in our City,” he said in aTuesday release. “Our parents are stronger and our school community is stronger than this union may think, and we will continue to make sure all safety standards are met.”
City Councilor John Connolly and Mass. Rep. Martin Walsh, both candidates for mayor, said they disagreed with the strike.
“It is shameful for the school bus drivers’ union to use our children as pawns in a political game,” Connolly said in a Tuesdaystatement. “This is about safety first and foremost, and it is totally unacceptable that our children were put at risk this morning, not to mention the impact on thousands of parents who will miss work. Missing even one day of school is a real problem for our children who face a daunting achievement gap.”
Walsh said in a Tuesday statement that the strike is intolerable and should be stopped immediately.
“Kids and parents must come first,” he said. “This is wrong. The bus drivers have put our children in harm’s way. This is an illegal action, causing a huge disruption, and I call on the bus drivers to return to work immediately. This is a violation of the contract and cannot be tolerated.”
The strike is expected to continue into Wednesday and the union could appear in court later this week for illegally staging a walkout.