Featherstone: Bring back the old school bus drivers
Most people think the school bus strike ended two weeks ago. And it did, officially. But for a lot of drivers and the kids and families they served, life still hasn't returned to normal.
Before the strike, our morning routine on the Clinton Hill-Bed-Stuy border resembled the world of "Mayberry R.F.D." more than that of Notorious B.I.G. of neighborhood fame. At 7:26 a.m., we'd leave home. A smiling driver named Pierre would welcome our 7-year-old onto a yellow bus a few minutes later. He was always on time. He was appropriately strict (my son complained that he didn't permit arm wrestling in the aisles), and he let the children vote on whether they'd listen to the radio.
Sadly, neither Pierre's employer nor the city has treated him with the sense of responsibility and fairness he showed our children every day.
Private bus companies have contracts with the New York City Department of Education to shepherd kids to and from school. The company that covers our route has replaced the drivers who went on strike, like Pierre, with workers who don't even know the routes.
For nearly a week after the end of the strike, our new driver didn't show up at all. Now that he's on the job, we've seen him park in dangerous places -- the middle of traffic, blocking a city bus lane -- and read directions to the school off the back of an envelope. He got lost, more than once. One time last week he skipped a stop, leaving families standing in the rain.
Parents I know are angry that the city is allowing this company to treat these workers as if they were disposable. Pierre deserves the job security that he and his colleagues were striking over. He shouldn't be punished for exercising his time-honored right to strike. And families in our neighborhood are terrified of these untrained drivers. Will there have to be an accident before anyone does something?
The mayor and the DOE keep saying the firing of the drivers isn't their problem. But common sense and legal expertise beg to differ. During the strike, the National Labor Relations Board explained that, along with the private bus companies, the DOE was a "primary employer" of the drivers. Mayor Bloomberg, you're the boss. You could solve this problem with one phone call. Tell the companies to rehire the experienced drivers.Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.