UPDATE: New York City's school bus drivers will go on strike Wednesday, their union announced late Monday afternoon.
The drivers have been on the verge of calling a strike for several days in the nation's largest school system, where more than 150,000 students in both public and private schools rely on the yellow bus service.
The union that represents the city's 9,000 school bus drivers, mechanics, and bus attendants threatened the walkout after the city schools department announced in December that it would seek competitive bids to transport more than 22,000 students with special needs. Those new contracts would scrap 30-year-old job protections by eliminating requirements for the bus companies to hire drivers by seniority and at the same pay rates that they received from previous yellow bus companies, according to media reports.
New York City Schools Chancellor Peter Walcott and Mayor Michael Bloomberg had harsh words for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, the union that represents drivers, with the mayor calling the threatened strike "totally irresponsible," especially in a school year when many students have already missed a week of classes due to Hurricane Sandy.
Walcott's office has already announced plans to provide free subway fare cards and reimbursements for taxis and car services to students who are stranded without service during a strike. With 1 million children enrolled in New York City schools, the vast majority do not use yellow bus service. Those who do ride school buses qualify based on a disability, or their age and the distance they live from school.
Though New York City buses fewer children than many other school districts, city education officials said it is the most expensive yellow bus service in the nation, at $1.1 billion a year, or an average of $6,900 per student who uses the service. The city's school bus contracts have not been put out for competitive bid in 33 years, or since the last time the drivers' union went on a strike. The last walkout lasted more than three months.
School buses line up to drop off students in New York. 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.