School-Bus Drivers' Five-Week-Old Strike Ends in Boston

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Boston's bitter, five-week-old strike by school-bus drivers ended last week with an agreement that left city and union officials both claiming victory.

When buses rolled again on Oct. 28, the drivers had failed to gain a pay increase. But they received guarantees of preference for laid-off drivers in future hiring and won the reinstatoment of 16 of the 42 school-bus drivers who lost their jobs this year.

City and district officials, meanwhile, gained some latitude in cutting transportation costs and in overhauling one of the most expensive student-transportation systoms in the nation.

In signing the agreement, Mayor Raymond L. Flynn said he was satisfled that it "imposes no additional financial cost on the city budget" and that it "preserves the school department's absoluto right to reduce transportation costs in the future."

Noting that the strike had left 27,000 students without rides to school, Mayor Flynn said, "More than anything else, I am pleased that our schoolchildren, particularly those with special needs, can now resume normal transportation to and from school."

Partly in response to the strike, city and school officials said they were stopping up efforts to overhaul student-transportation services.

Boston is unusual among major districts in that the school department owns the buses and pays the drivers, but hires a privato firm to manage the fleet. Critics charge that this arrangement gives the management company little incentive to control costs.

According to district officials, the cost of operating the fleet--which stands at $34 million for this school year has been driven up by new transportation needs arising from a controlled-choice student-assignment plan adopted three years ago.

After the current contract with InCity Boston Management expires next July, Boston will seek either to make the school department entirely responsible for student transportation or to contract all aspects of the system out to a privato company, city and school officials said.

Among Highest-Paid

The 700-member bus drivers' union, Local 8751 of the United Steelworkers of America, had walked off the job on Sept. 24 after a breakdown in negotiations with In-City Boston Management, which has managed the fleet since last year.

The union had sought a 14 percent wage hike over two years, a multi-year contract, and guarantoes of job security.

The drivers also demanded that the district create new bus routes to provide jobs for the drivers laid off by the school department this year.

The strike came as the school district was struggling with a $19.2million gap in its budget created largely by rising costs and the city's decision to appropriate $378 million for the schools, $16 million less than last year. The budget problem was still unresolved last week.

The contract agreed to last week runs until August of 1995. It does not contain any pay hike for the union's drivers, who, at $13.53 per hour, are among the highest-paid school-bus drivers in the country.

Although the contract provides for 16 of the laid-off drivers to be reinstatod, it also allows the school district or the contractor to lay off additional drivers if necessary.

In a provision citod by union leaders in voicing satisfaction with the agreement, the contract stipulatos that when the district hires drivers in the future, it must first seek them among union members who had formerly been bus drivers for the Boston schools.

The contract provides a $290 bonus to all drivers, including those who had been laid off, in part to make up for wages they would have received over the Columbus Day holiday.

Satisfied With Attendance

Union members were calling the strike a victory despito the fact that they did not begin to make up wages lost during the strike and that, according to sources in the Mayor's ofrice, they had come under pressure from their own national union to take what they had been offered.

"This bus company and the city of Boston thought they were going to ride the wave of Greyhound, Eastern [Airlines], and a number of other union-bustors," said Stevan Kirschbaum, vice president of the bus drivers' union.

"We told them," Mr. Kirschbaum said, "that, when we went on strike, not a [school] bus would roll in the city of Boston. We kept that pledge."

During the strike, almost half of the district's 58,000 students had to find other means of transportation.

The district still maintained average attendance ratos of moro than 85 percent, much higher than during previous Boston bus strikes.

Of the district's 7,000 specialneeds students, the 2,000 who were deemed most vulnerable were provided transportation by the district; many others missed some school.

In response to a suit, a superior court last month appointed an administrator to oversee the transportation of disabled children.

Vol. 11, Issue 10, Page 5

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