Protest To Keep School Bus Routes
By Rachel Geizhals
More than 300 people rallied Sept. 10 down the block from the Department of Education in protest of bus route cuts to lines that primarily service students with special education needs.
Members for Change, a dissident group within Local 1181 of Amalgamated Transit Union, gathered with other union members, drivers, bus monitors and parents for a press conference near the Office of Pupil Transportation to rally against sudden bus line cutbacks.
One bus now makes 23 stops, another is overloaded with 35 children and if there is no coverage in a particular area, the Department of Education mails the parents a MetroCard, said Eddie Kay, who helps run Members for Change.
Drivers carried signs that implored the Department of Education to, “Love those kids like your own,” and, “Don’t endanger eight year olds with MetroCard.”
Protesters complained that students are late to school and late getting home. One noted that some children even wet themselves on the bus because the ride is so long, and drivers cannot stop to let passengers relieve themselves.
Department of Education representative Marge Feinberg said in an e-mail that service is available for all eligible students. However, there are 200 fewer lines because “we are doing a better job routing buses.”
Michele Muller, who said her son has autism, epilepsy and low muscle tone, said consolidating routes is a “terrible” idea because it increases already long bus rides for mentally and physically disabled children. Muller said her son spends two hours on the bus every day.
Bus monitor Surka Dukonovic said her two-hour route, which comprises two runs that were combined, covers students from Corona to Long Island.
The Members for Change goal is two-fold, said Levy Ratner attorney Carl J. Levine, whose firm assists the group in its efforts. Primarily, group members want to apply public pressure to make the Department of Education aware of the cuts’ effects so they can rescind them. Second, the group wants union administrators to do their jobs properly.
Mary Avent, a monitor whose job was eliminated, said, “The union is not doing anything for us.” Avent said the union is not communicating with workers or defending their contracts, and that is why Members for Change was formed.
Signs at the protest that said, “No union. No representation.” reflected this dissatisfaction.
Union leaders did not attend the conference, and representatives for the union declined to comment.
Workers also complained about the union’s handling of cutbacks. Driver Hanoi Angeles said she was not informed of her unemployment; on Aug. 25, Angeles went for her route assignment, but when she walked in, her name was not on the list.
Once their routes are reinstated, the bus drivers and monitors plan to rally at union headquarters for better communication and more effective implementation of services, said Avent.
However, the Department of Education may not bow to public pressure and protests.