Despite assurances that 'sharing the sacrifice' necessary as a result of the 2008 economic collapse is the patriotic duty of every American, the latest challenge to that burden-sharing philosophy are the school bus drivers, matrons and mechanics of Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1181, the country's largest transit union with 8,800 members in New York City.
On strike since January 16, the walkout was provoked when Mayor Michael Bloomberg withheld a court-ordered Employee Protection Provision (EPP) from Department of Education bids for upcoming school bus contracts. In place since 1979, the EPP guarantees each employee a job regardless of which company wins the bid by requiring the company to hire current workers based on seniority. Without the EPP in force, the privately owned bus companies will be able to cut wages and benefits as they replace experienced, trained personnel with minimum wage workers who lack the necessary CPR training or other required certifications.
Like most large urban cities, the City of New York does not directly employ its school bus drivers, matrons or mechanics, the majority of whom work for the Atlantic Express Transit Group which is the city's largest transit company and second largest in the country. While the majority of the city's 1.1 million public school students walk to school, 150,000 city students depend on bus service; one-third of whom are disabled requiring a wheelchair or autistic children.
In the background, beyond public purview is a Wall Street private equity firm, the Greenwich Street Capital Group, that purchased a controlling share of AETG in 1999. As any private equity firm's prospectus will confirm, its purpose in life is to invest in companies it perceives to be potentially profitable and to take whatever steps are necessary to assure that profitability... no matter if that means cutting services to school age children whose physical disabilities require an attendant on their school bus ride each day.