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Private line bus drivers on strike in New York City

By Lee Sustar | January 14, 2005 | Page 11

NEW YORK--Workers at private bus lines in Queens and Brooklyn hit the picket line January 10 in a fight for a new contract.

The workers, members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1179, have been working without a contract for two years while the City of New York negotiates a takeover of the companies. The workers are demanding that their pay and pensions be protected as part of a transition to ownership by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which runs the city's municipal bus lines, subways and commuter railroads.

Some 70,000 riders are affected by the strike. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg has attempted to whip up public anger against the strikers, it's the mayor and city officials who have been dragging their heels over terms of the takeover of seven private bus lines, which was announced two years ago as a way to improve service and cut costs.

The drivers, who work for Command Bus Company in Brooklyn and Green Bus Lines in Queens, are worried that the cost cutting would come at their expense. If they were to sign a new contract with management before terms of the city's takeover are finalized, they could end up with pay, working conditions and benefits that are inferior to their counterparts in municipal bus lines. That means that the ATU is effectively negotiating with the city, rather than the companies' managers.

The dynamic is similar to a seven-week strike in 2002 at three private bus lines in Queens. Those workers, members of Transport Workers Union Local 100, succeeded in gaining improvements in health care but not the job guarantees they sought.

Now, the ATU is in a similar battle. With bus rides in the city expected to rise from 115 million rides per year to 125 million, the outcome of this struggle will have a significant impact on bargaining throughout the transit system and in New York's public sector.

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