BOSTON — School bus drivers that serve Boston Public Schools (BPS) walked off the job on Tuesday morning, which is reportedly connected to their union’s opposition to changes being made at the transportation department.
United Steelworkers of America Local 8751 represents approximately 700 school bus drivers in the city; about 300 of those drivers refused to operate school buses, which impacted nearly half of the 33,000 students who receive yellow bus service.
While all schools were open and on normal schedules, Boston school officials warned families to expect significant school bus delays and some trip cancellations.
A statement on the BPS website indicates that the strike appears to be connected to the union’s opposition to changes that “ensure driver safety and suitability, steps to improve on-time performance, and the new web tool that allows families to track the location of their child’s school bus in real time.”
“This action is an unacceptable attempt to shut down our entire school system because the union is unhappy with efforts to increase safety and improve on-time service," BPS Interim Superintendent John McDonough said. “By failing to work, these drivers are denying children their rides to school and are inconveniencing thousands of families. I want to apologize to all of our families and ask for their patience as we continue to press forward on these needed improvements to safety, on-time performance and parents’ ability to track the location of their child’s school bus.”
Earlier this year, BPS and the city of Boston awarded Veolia Transportation a contract to manage operations and maintenance for the school district’s fleet.
Veolia agreed to continue to employ the same bus drivers who had worked under the previous provider, First Student, at the same salaries.
BPS said that the changes being made by Veolia include:
• Additional driver certifications that match federal transportation standards.
• Requirements that each driver must physically check in with a supervisor to ensure they are ready to operate a bus, rather than take the keys home every night.
• A computer-based payroll system that replaces paper records.
• Making existing GPS location data available to parents through the "Where’s my School Bus?" app.
• Launching a “safety desk” to improve immediate communication between drivers, dispatchers and BPS staff in an emergency.
Officials said BPS and Veolia will pursue all avenues necessary to restore school bus service. On Tuesday afternoon, BPS said that Mayor Thomas Menino, McDonough and Veolia are taking the following actions immediately:
• Pursuing every legal action possible against the driver’s union, including filing an immediate injunction to compel drivers to return to work.
• Exploring disciplinary action against any driver participating in the strike.
• Assessing the number of students who may need emergency transportation.
Meanwhile, CBS News reports that drivers gathering at school bus headquarters in Dorchester, Mass., told WBZ-TV that they're upset with Veolia and its strict safety conditions, which they claim don't allow them any bathroom breaks during their shifts.
Some children were brought to school in the morning by local police, and the mayor's office said any student who shows a valid student identification will be able to ride to school via the train or the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for free on Tuesday, according to CBS News.
The district and Veolia did not have an update for tomorrow's service. Families can find updated information related to the strike at bostonpublicschools.org. BPS said it will attempt to list buses that are running and not running, but this information will not be available until officials can begin to track the impact.
Automated phone calls were also sent to all families this morning, and the district expanded its transportation hotline to answer families' questions at (617) 635-9520.