The monthlong school bus strike that affected tens of thousands of children in the nation's largest school district ended Friday, after union leaders were assured by prospective New York City mayoral candidates that their concerns would be heard after this year's election.
Leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union said service for New York City schools would resume Wednesday, when classes resume following mid-winter recess.
Some 8,000 bus drivers and aides walked off the job Jan. 16 over job protection issues. Local 1181 of the ATU wanted the city to include protections for current employees in future contracts with bus companies, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a court ruling prohibited the city from doing so.
"Though our strike has been suspended, the principles that we fight for remain pressing issues that the city will have to address," said local union president Michael Cordiello.
The school bus companies said in a statement they were relieved the "pointless" strike was over, and still must work on a collective bargaining agreement with the union.
The school bus strike was the first in the city since 1979. About 5,000 of the city's 7,700 routes were affected.
Just 152,000 of New York City's 1.1 million public schoolchildren ride yellow school buses, but the cost of busing students has risen from $100 million in 1979 to $1.1 billion today.
Many of the students affected were disabled. Parents and students said Friday they would welcome the walkout's end.
Gwendolyn Hamilton was recruited to ferry two of her grandchildren to different schools on Staten Island. "I'll be so glad it's over, you don't know," Hamilton said, flashing a broad smile.
Her grandson Tyshon Ellzy transferred to Public School 20 on Staten Island from a school in Brooklyn because of the strike. Had he stayed in Brooklyn, the fourth grader would have had to take public transportation on his own. He said he likes his new school but "I'd rather go on the school bus."
Amadou Andiye has been paying someone to take his two children to the Staten Island Community Charter School by city bus each morning because at ages 5 and 7 they're too young to take public transit alone.
"It's not easy," he said, adding that his employer would not have let him arrive late every day. "You can do it one time at your job, but after that, they'll complain."
The decision to suspend the strike came a day after five Democrats vying for the nomination to succeed Bloomberg as mayor next year sent the union a letter asking drivers to return to work. The candidates called on the bus drivers "to return to their jobs and continue the battle in other ways."
The candidates — City Council speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller John Liu, former City Comptroller Bill Thompson and former Councilman Sal Albanese — said that if elected they will revisit the job security issue.
Larry Hanley, the union's international president, said in a statement Friday that he was encouraged by the letter. "We view this request to suspend the current strike as an earnest effort on behalf of the city, its children and its workers," Hanley said.
Still, the strike's end was a victory for Bloomberg, who insisted that the city must seek new bus contracts to cut costs. Bloomberg and schools Chancellor Dennis Wolcott praised the decision Friday.
"We appreciate the hard work our bus drivers and matrons do and we welcome them back to the job," Bloomberg said in a statement. "In the city's entire history, the special interests have never had less power than they do today, and the end of this strike reflects the fact that when we say we put children first, we mean it."
Union leaders said Friday they were "dismayed" by the Bloomberg administration, which didn't help bring the strike to a close.
"In January when Mayor Bloomberg is gone, we are comfortable that his entire scheme will be rejected," Cordiello said. "We are grateful that so many elected leaders in this city are choosing the facts as a path to a conclusion, rather than a conclusion as a path to the facts."