I can’t take it, I’ve mostly held back for nearly 4 weeks, but the ATU 1181 and its drivers and matrons have finally made me lose my patience with them. I just can no longer have sympathy for a group that holds children with special needs hostage in order to better themselves. If they had gone about asking for job protections strategically or started by helping reform the entire transportation system, I think the union would look much better to all parties involved. You don’t all of a sudden call a strike and want to be taken seriously as a union by only demanding job protections.
So as someone who interacts with drivers and matrons daily, as well as for a weekly community outing, have I got the dirt for you!
Over and over you hear the ATU cite how they are just trying to make sure children have trained drivers and matrons, especially dealing with children with special needs. This gets parents to support them, although parents don’t see what I see. Clearly, I’ve heard, “its for the children,” one too many times.
I have found that over the course of 5 years at the same school, it’s been a rotating cast of characters of bus drivers and matrons. I’m not sure of the argument that bus drivers want to be on the same route from year to year, we’ve never had that and often drivers change 2 to 3 times a year on a route. I can’t even keep track of the matrons.
Repeatedly, I have matrons and even drivers who do not know how to use the tie down systems on their buses to properly secure wheelchairs. They then sometimes take over a half hour to tie down an average of 5 wheelchairs, that’s six minutes per chair. Sometimes they arrive without enough tie downs for the number of students who are going on the trips. On my last outing, a small wheelchair bus that should accommodate at least 3 wheelchairs had tie downs for only one chair. I then had to teach the matron how to slide the tie downs into the tracks and that the chair will tip over if you do not use 4 tie downs on the floor, not on the wall of the bus. (Lucky for them, I used to secure and drive my entire class in a wheelchair van at my old school.)
The DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) will fine these companies only if the school repeatedly follows up. But why as a union do they not fight for better training for their members?
On these community outing days, I've been told I have too many wheelchairs. I've been told that on a bus with room for 8 chairs, they would only take 4. That I need to split the kids up so they didn't have to tire themselves out to tie them down, even though I didn't have a teacher for a second bus. I've seen matrons that are injured and can't do tie-downs for a wheelchair sit on a bus while the driver did all the work.
On our regular routes, I have seen drivers quick to say that a wheelchair's brake does not work to avoid having to pick up a student. They will repeatedly harass the families about the brakes, without even checking them again, even after the physical therapist has fixed them. I am the one who fields the phone calls from families trying to get the bus drivers and matrons to stop complaining to them.
They seem to pick the rules they want to follow that are convenient for them. I've seen a driver who refused to transport a walker device along with a wheelchair, but gets off the loaded school bus every morning in back of the school to smoke a cigarette. I also repeatedly see matrons, who have been off all day, get off a loaded bus of students to use the restroom. I've heard drivers and matrons who have made parents feel extremely bad about their children's special needs that cause them to scream during the bus ride. They’ll tell parents that they need to talk to their child, even though their child is non-verbal and doesn’t understand.
Is this where their special training comes in?
Today, I found out that 2 porters, who would carry a student out of a public housing building with no elevator, have been paid to sit on a bus all year for a student who’s home has an elevator. Why didn’t the driver tell the school and the company when he noticed? (And of course it’s the smoking, rule obeying bus driver’s route!)
I mean listen to this WNYC report, they’re not even outside picketing all day! One even has a doctor’s note! What a joke.
I will say that the entire system between the DOE's OPT (Office of Pupil Transportation) and the bus companies and the actual drivers and matrons is a mess. I wish the Amalgamated Transportation Union 1181 would be shedding light on overcrowded buses, which the parents would support, and professionalizing their unions, rather than all of a sudden making a fight for employment protections.
So parents, this is what I see and I know you have experienced a lot of this as well. Let’s not let them continue to use your children for their own agenda. It’s time to call them out and end this strike.