Boston schools prepare for 2nd day of bus strike

Associated Press
Boston school busses sit idle behind a chain link fence at Veolia Transportation, the city's school bus contractor, in Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. About 600 school bus drivers have gone on strike affecting most of the school district's 33,000 students. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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BOSTON (AP) — School and city officials in Boston prepared for a second day of a school bus drivers' strike Wednesday, though the drivers' union has disavowed the walkout and it was possible drivers might return to the job.

Patrick Bryant, an attorney for the United Steelworkers Local 8751, said union leadership has asked the nearly 700 striking drivers to return to work, including during visits with megaphones to every city bus yard Tuesday.

But Bryant said it was unclear whether the employees would return to the job Wednesday.

"We've asked the people to go back to work, so how can we predict?" he said. "I mean, the anticipation is that people would do that."

The surprise strike Tuesday stunned parents and school officials and stranded some 33,000 students, school officials said. Some kids hitched rides with police, harried parents and even a police superintendent, while others just stayed home.

An angry Mayor Tom Menino said schools will open an hour earlier Wednesday, so parents juggling their own jobs can drop children off early. He added that the MBTA will continue to offer free transit bus and subway rides for students, while police will work with the school department to ensure student safety.

"Our school community is stronger than the selfish actions of this union," Menino said on his Twitter account. "We will not allow them to disrupt learning in the City of Boston."

Bryant said the strike was not authorized by the union, but led by rogue members.

Drivers picketing outside the bus yards Tuesday said the company was not honoring the terms of their contract. They've also said they're frustrated with Veolia's treatment, including changes in their health care plan, failing to provide key route information and ineffective communications.

Schools spokesman Lee McGuire said the walkout was prompted, in part, by the union's opposition to a GPS system that allows parents to track buses online in real time.

On Tuesday afternoon, the company that operates the buses, Veolia Transportation Inc., moved to force the drivers back to work, but a federal judge turned down the request.

Veolia had requested a temporary injunction against the drivers' union. But Bryant called the request for an injunction against the union "Kabuki theater," because the union opposes the strike and has tried to get drivers back on the job

"(Veolia's attorney) wants an injunction purely for the theater and the drama and to represent to the people that he's doing something," he said.

But Veolia's attorneys argued it strains credibility to believe that the union isn't behind a near universal work stoppage involving hundreds of members.

"This was beyond the actions of a few rogue members," attorney Paul Hodnett said.

U.S. District Judge George O'Toole sided with the union, saying an injunction wasn't appropriate now, at least until it's clear whether drivers would return to work Wednesday.

On Tuesday morning, the city scrambled to get kids to classes, with police shuttling some to school in cruisers and vans. Police Supt. Daniel Linskey tweeted a picture of two children he took to school, saying one was happy because he didn't want to miss gym class.

The strike was particularly disrupting for Michelle Novelle, a mother of nine. Six attend public school, including two autistic children who are normally picked up by school buses at the family's Roslindale home.

She said she learned of the walkout through an automated call from the city shortly after 6 a.m.

Novelle's oldest child took public transit to her high school and she drove the other five to the three different schools they attend. She pulled it off, though she added it was "nearly impossible."

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Associated Press writers Bob Salsberg, Bridget Murphy and Jay Lindsay contributed to this report.

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