City Officials On Bus Driver Strike: ‘We Are Not Out of the Woods’

Union representatives are meeting with the bus company to iron out details of demands, but Mayor Menino is being cautious about what happens next.

Boston Public School bus drivers were back on the road Wednesday morning, after a “wildcat” strike that left thousands of students stranded a day prior, but city officials are being cautious about what could happen next.

Students will be picked up today after school, but the situation is “very tentative going forward,” according to Mayor Tom Menino, as union members representing the bus drivers, and the managing company, Veola Transportation, continue to meet at a hotel in Quincy to iron out details of grievances that led to the impromptu strike.

Menino urged parents to plan accordingly in the coming days, insisting that bus drivers could walk off the job once again, leaving many people struggling to figure out how to get their children to school on time. “We anticipate this level of uncertainty to continue tomorrow. [Parents] should be prepared to have back up alternative transportation plans, in case they do not return to work,” he said.

On Wednesday, 91 percent of bus trips were on time, according to officials. Students that did not make it to school, or who cannot attend school if another strike occurs, will not be marked absent, but rather, “excused,” according to Interim Boston Public Schools Superintendent John McDonough. “We are not out of the woods,” he said. “Right now this is a day-by-day situation…we can—and will—commit to sharing what we know and what we are doing…we do not want to do this forever. We want certainty, and we want drivers to commit to doing their jobs everyday.”

Chief of Personnel and Labor Relations John Dunlap said he spoke with representatives from Veolia Transportation Corp., the company contracted by Boston to make sure buses get on the roads, who was on site in Quincy having a discussion with members of the bus drivers’ union.

He said the city has not been briefed on all of the specifics of the demands from the union, or the discussion overall, which is ongoing. Dunlap said any punishment or discipline in regards to the wildcat strike Tuesday is between the transportation company and the union, and does not fall in the hands of the city.

Just 30 of the 650 schools buses meant to pick up Boston students were on the road Tuesday morning, impacting roughly 33,000 students that rely on the buses in order to get to school. Hundreds of members of United Steelworkers of America Local 8751, which represents 700 bus drivers in Boston, staged a protest outside of a bus depot in Dorchester, refusing to work.

The union that represents the bus drivers who didn’t show up for work said employees acted on their own, and union representatives did not condone their actions, but Menino was skeptical of the claim, so he sought an injunction in federal court to get them back on the roads.

The injunction was denied, however, after pleas from parents and city administrators, drivers reluctantly jumped back behind the wheel Wednesday morning, as negotiations over a contract the union workers signed last summer were ironed out.