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New York school bus strike: sign of national pressure on unions (+video)

While New York City is seeking to bring down its highest-in-the-nation school busing costs by putting the contract out to bid, the union is demanding that drivers and matrons be protected.

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The New York City school bus strike is now in its third day – pitting the union’s concerns over job security and bus safety against the city’s need to bring down bus costs that are the highest in the nation.

It’s also another indication – along with the recent teacher strike in Chicago and the fights over union rights in Wisconsin and elsewhere – that unions nationwide are increasingly feeling “their backs are to the wall,” says Ed Ott, a distinguished lecturer in labor studies at the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute and the former head of the New York City Labor Council.

“Strikes were always considered the ultimate weapon, and you don’t use them lightly,” he says. “For this generation of union leaders, [the use of strikes] is a clear indication of the pressures they are feeling.”

About 152,000 students – 11 percent of public school students in New York – rely on school buses, which cover 7,700 routes. Forty percent of the buses were running Wednesday, the city said, because they are not driven by members of the striking Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181.

Other bused students have had to find alternative ways to school since Wednesday. The city has been providing metro cards and reimbursing families for driving or sending students in taxis, but that hasn’t quelled the frustrations of some parents who have had their work schedules disrupted. Some parents, on the other hand, support the strikers.

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