Monday, September 16, 2013

Federal Judge Orders School Bus Company Operators To Rescind Wage-andBenefits Cuts

Michael Cordiello

Judge Orders School Bus Companies to Rescind ‘Illegal’ Wage Cuts

By SARAH DORSEY, The Chief, September 9, 2013 5:00 pm
A Federal Judge Aug. 29 ordered school bus company operators to rescind the wage-and-benefit cuts they imposed on city school bus drivers and matrons this spring after they led a month-long strike, ordering the companies back to the negotiating table to bargain over their contract in good faith.
Workers 'Driven Out'
“Though last week’s decision was a tremendous victory for the hard-working school bus drivers and matrons of our city, much work still needs to be done,” said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello. “[They] are tasked with safely transporting our children every day and through the actions of City Hall and the bus companies, experienced and professional drivers are being driven out of their jobs and into poverty.”
Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto issued the injunction against 28 bus companies, which she said unlawfully imposed a “best and final” offer on the union that slashed Bus Drivers’ salaries by 7.5 percent and Matrons’ salaries by 3.75 percent. The most-senior Drivers previously made only $50,000 and Matrons just $28,000.
The employees also lost benefits: some holiday pay was cut, overtime diminished and workers had to pay more in health insurance. Longevity pay was eliminated and medical and pension contributions were halted for employees on Workers’ Compensation or disability leave.
Ms. Matsumoto said that in five bargaining sessions held after the strike, there had been “vibrant” discussions that were pushing the parties toward an agreement before the companies unilaterally declared an impasse—a sign that the move was improper.
She stated that unless the companies were forced back to the bargaining table, the union’s reputation could be damaged.
“Therefore, because union members are likely blaming Local 1181 for being unable to prevent the financial and emotional harm they are experiencing as a result of the best and final offer, consequently threatening the union with the loss of membership and bargaining clout, injunctive relief is necessary to ‘prevent irreparable harm’’’ to the union, she wrote.
Mayor Started Free-for-All
The drivers and matrons went on strike in January after Mayor Bloomberg removed a decades-old provision from the city’s special-education busing bids that preserved employees’ jobs and benefits regardless of which firm won the contract. He cited a state court decision he said outlawed the measure, called the Employee Protection Provision, although he later admitted the city could have amended that provision to address the court's objections, saying it was more financially beneficial just to eliminate it.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced April 26 that the city would save $100 million over five years on the new bus contracts. Mr. Cordiello denounced the situation as “union-busting at its absolute worst,” saying that any new deals would come at the expense of workers.
In July, members of the union rallied around a state bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Micah Kellner, that would have restored the job-protection clause and required better training for staff transporting special-needs children. He, like the union, argued that the poor morale and high-turnover rate that would surely follow the wage cuts would harm the type of students who most benefit from stability and well-trained personnel.

Gonzalez: Brooklyn federal judge's decision a huge victory for school bus drivers and matrons

Judge Kiyo Matsumoto ordered 28 school bus companies to restore cuts in wages and benefits that the firms slapped on their employees in the midst of talks over a new labor contract. In a win for the bus employees, Matsumoto commanded the bus companies to resume bargaining with the bus drivers union.

Judge Kiyo Matsumato
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A Brooklyn federal judge has handed the city’s 8,800 school bus drivers and matrons a huge back-to-school victory.

Judge Kiyo Matsumoto issued an injunction last week ordering 28 school bus companies to restore across-the-board cuts in wages and benefits that those firms slapped on their employees this year.

The wage cuts — a stiff 7.5% for drivers and 3.75% for bus matrons — were suddenly imposed by the companies in April in the midst of talks over a new labor contract. The owners also reduced overtime, eliminated Easter and Christmas week pay, and instituted cuts in health insurance contributions.


The judge ordered the owners to immediately resume “good-faith bargaining” with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, the bus drivers union. Union leaders hope the new talks drag out until Mayor Bloomberg leaves office in four months, believing his successor will be more sensitive to their needs.

The pay cuts by the owners came only weeks after a turbulent bus strike that left parents of more than 100,000 public school children — many of them with special needs — scrambling for a month to get their kids to class.

The bus drivers union called the walkout a desperate effort to stop Bloomberg from eliminating employee protection provisions from a new set of bus contracts the city Education Department was set to award.


Those protections had for decades ensured that school bus workers could keep their jobs no matter what companies were hired by the city.

But the mayor refused to budge, claiming those protections had been ruled illegal by a state court. The bus strike thus turned into a dismal failure. Soon after, the bus owners declared an impasse in their contract talks with the union. Insisting they needed lower pay scales to remain competitive with a new group of bus contract bidders, the older firms then unilaterally imposed wage reductions on their entire workforce.

It was a sharp blow for drivers, whose top pay until then had been $50,000. Bus matrons earned just $28,000.


But in a 36-page decision released last Thursday, Matsumoto ordered an immediate reversal of those actions.

She made her ruling at the request of the National Labor Relations Board, which held a hearing in late July to determine whether the bus owners’ actions violated federal labor law. Even though the board has yet to issue a final decision in the case, it nonetheless petitioned Matsumoto for the injunction because of its “reasonable cause to believe that unfair labor practices have been committed.”

Federal labor law requires that an impasse can be declared only when both sides agree, not when one side acts, Matsumoto noted.


She cited testimony at the NLRB hearing that “union members are having trouble paying bills, feared losing their homes (and) were going bankrupt,” and that “irreparable harm” could come to their collective bargaining rights unless their previous wages and working conditions were restored.

A separate NLRB hearing process is expected to decide whether the workers will also get back wages.

“We believe the judge's decision was erroneous and have already filed our notice of appeal,” said Jeff Pollack, attorney for the bus companies. “We are ready to go back to the table immediately and start negotiating a fair and reasonable contract.”


“It’s nice to win a battle for a change,” said Michael Cordiello, president of Local 1181. “Hopefully, we will get a new mayor who helps us.”

And Cordiello has good reason to hope.

Four of the leading Democratic contenders for mayor, Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson, Christine Quinn and John Liu, all publicly opposed Bloomberg’s stance during the bus strike and promised to revisit the employee protection provisions if elected.

So if you see a big smile on the face of your child’s bus matron or driver this school year, now you’ll know why.

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