Normative Narratives

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Economic Outlook: In NYC, The Wheels on The (School) Bus (don’t) Go Round and Round

Today marked the beginning of a strike by New York City School Bus Drivers. The last strike, in 1979, lasted 13 weeks. The strike will affect a lot of children, “152,000 students who rely on bus service include 54,000 special-needs children.” 8,800 drivers are going on strike, this strike will cause headaches for lots of NYC parents, children, and school administrators.

At the root of the issue is, surprisingly, is not driver compensation, but job security. “The Bloomberg administration argues that a recent court ruling has found that the city cannot offer the guarantees sought by the union…We couldn’t change our mind and cave if we wanted to,” Mr. Bloomberg said. The Bloomberg administration is  seeking “new bids from bus companies that run some of the city’s routes, without the traditional job protection guarantees for union members that have been in past contracts.”

Bus drivers do not make much money, but they do serve a very important job, particularly school bus drivers who are responsible for the safe transportation of our most valuable resource–children. The average NYC bus driver makes $22,564, barely enough to be over the poverty line, surely job security should not be an issue for these people. The NYC average salary is only slightly higher than the national average, despite the very high cost of living in NYC.

Mayor Bloomberg also cited student safety as an issue with drivers going on strike. In NYC, driving certainly requires a certain level of skill and experience, having backup drivers is irresponsible. On this, both sides can agree, according to New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento: “Our children deserve the best, and that is what this fight is about. School bus workers are courageously taking on City Hall to ensure the safe transportation of New York’s most precious cargo—our children…How could it be illegal to put experienced bus drivers and matrons on the school bus?…Noting that matrons have a starting salary of $11 per hour and that drivers start at $14 an hour, Mr. Cordiello said union members were not overpaid.  ‘For him to make the remark that this is draining the city’s funds is ridiculous…He has put our back to the wall. We have no choice but to fight for our jobs.'”

Bloomberg is pointing to a recent ruling that can easily be bypassed or disregarded. Perhaps it would not be perfect competition to ensure union drivers jobs, but when it comes to public goods (and education in particular), special circumstances are nothing new. No one would be upset if Bloomberg ensured union drivers jobs, they are the most qualified to get our kids safely to and from school. They also do not make a lot of money and are not asking for more. This seems like a clear instance of Bloomberg over mayor-ing at the end of his term; he should guarantee union school bus drivers their jobs.

Savings from competition would be modest, how much less would non-union drivers really work for? Saving a few dollars an hour is not worth compromising our children’s safety and creating all the headaches of a school bus driver strike in one of the biggest cities in the world. These drivers accept wages that are barely livable on in NYC, job security should  not be an issue.