School bus workers in New York City are cheering the return of employee protections that for decades had protected middle-class jobs in their industry.
In the 1970s, New York City enacted the original Employee Protection Provision (EPP) to guarantee school bus workers’ seniority rights and wage scales when a new company took over a contract with the city. As privatization in the school bus industry rose, it secured the rights and wages for thousands of hardworking New Yorkers. Furthermore, students and parents could take comfort in knowing that – thanks to a requirement in the provision – contractors could only hire experienced and qualified workers from a master seniority list.
“This job isn’t as easy as people think,” said Lisa Cilone a New York City school bus driver at Y&M Transportation and a Teamsters Local 553 trustee and shop steward. “We are trained, experienced professionals.”
Unfair employers were prevented from replacing longtime school bus drivers, monitors and mechanics, like Cilone, with newer, cheaper labor, ensuring the retention of good wages for workers and professional drivers for students and parents. Then, in 2013, former NYC mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, removed the EPP and jeopardized the livelihoods of thousands of school bus workers, including more than a thousand Teamster school bus workers represented by Local 553.
Local 553 Secretary-Treasurer Demos P. Demopoulos explains:
When Mayor Bloomberg cut the Employee Protection Provision, the livelihoods of our city’s school bus workers changed overnight. People who had dedicated their lives to the safe transport of our school children were thrust into a race to the bottom that made everyone a loser.
While Bloomberg boasted that removing the EPP would end up saving taxpayers $210 million over the next five years, he failed to mention the cost (and personal toll) that it would cause for workers – not to mention, the effects it would have on the safety of New York City’s students. By eliminating the EPP from the bidding process, school bus companies were left unchecked, and they took full advantage.
Without the protection of the EPP, experienced drivers, attendants and mechanics would either lose their jobs or be forced to accept substantially reduced wages and benefits in New York City, where the cost of living is among the highest in the US.
The Teamsters fought back, joining with ATU Local 1181 and their brothers and sisters in the labor movement to protest Bloomberg’s heavy-handed action. For more than three years, they took part in a hard-fought legislative effort to win public support and convince state legislators to pass legislation that would ensure the protections Bloomberg had taken away from workers by eliminating the provision.
On Saturday, legislation was passed in the New York Legislature requiring employee protections in New York City school bus contracts, guaranteeing the EPP back into the bidding process.
Demopoulos applauded the legislature's actions:
This fight has always been about restoring fundamental fairness. The people we entrust with the safety of our children deserve the wage and job security that befits their professionalism and experience. On behalf of our members in the school bus industry, I thank the legislature and look forward to the Governor signing this legislation into law.
Drivers like Lisa Cilone were equally pleased with what the union was able to accomplish. “Thank God I’m a Teamster!” she said.