January 16th, 2013 was supposed to be a regular winter school day in New York City. But it turned into a nightmare for the families of over 150,000 school age children from both the public and private school systems. They had the unfortunate “luck” to be bussed by drivers belonging to the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181. Those children found themselves stuck in a terrible situation, due to the start of a school bus strike.
Being the resourceful people that they are, 98% of New Yorkers made it to school that day, while city officials patted themselves on the back for a job well done, “We showed those union thugs that we won’t be bullied!”
However, my younger brother Menachem, was part of the 2% that didn’t make it to school that day and has had a 25% drop in his school attendance as the strike continued (for most special needs students the absence level has been closer to 40%).
Menachem is a very special boy, who happens to be severely disabled, autistic, and wheelchair bound. Our family does not own a vehicle. Although my siblings and I take special pride in helping our little brother, it’s really my mother that is his primary caregiver in addition to the fact that she’s a single mom, struggling to complete her college degree so that she can G-D willing support us. Can you even try to imagine how this bus strike puts the squeeze on Menachem being stuck home, and on us, caring for him during the entire school day, as he does not get any help during school hours?
The OPT of the Department of Education promises to reimburse families for transportation costs accrued as a result of the strike. That sounds like a fair deal. However it’s difficult enough for a family with a decent income to invest in a Taxi or private ambulette and hope that the GOV makes good on its promised reimbursement. But how about the struggling, low income families “investing” $29.00 each way for an ambulette, not for just 1 or 2 days but for close to a month, all the while struggling not to lose a part time job and completing Graduate School?
From the little research I have done into this strike and its background, I can see why the city and Unions are digging their heels. But is this the correct time and situation to play “I told you so” and to flex their muscles? A strike is extremely damaging to the most vulnerable members of our society and their families. It’s sad that union leaders, who only have their jobs as a result of different workers’ rights bills passed over the years, and a Mayor who tries to emphasize his care for children and low income families, both helped lead us to this terrible situation where the most helpless of our society are left hung to dry.
So far, I have only attempted to describe how incredibly my own family’s daily routine was disrupted by the current strike. My admittedly unscientific estimation is that the numbers of special needs children and their families that are affected by the strike are well into the thousands. How can the city that prides itself with quick recoveries after every major natural or man-made disaster fail now, when this bus strike is affecting those neediest?
Sadly something tells me this strike isn’t about getting better benefits for the school bus staff or about saving the city money. Rather, it’s a power struggle between a mayor and the union leaders both of whom are upstanding members of the 1% club. Well sorry, but this isn’t the right place for ego trips!
As a member of the social media generation, last Thursday night I Tweeted to all the current mayoral candidates, asking them what they would do to stop the strike, considering its terrible impact on special needs children and their families. Well I guess my experiment in social media democracy was a partial success, as proven by candidate Sal Albanese’s reply. “It’s a real tragedy for students like your brother. If I was mayor we’d have hammered out a deal before it ever got this far.” Many of the other candidates have also spoken out. However, there has yet to be a change for the better.
If we, citizens of the greatest city in the world, don’t demand an immediate solution to the strike, we risk causing severe and long-term harm to the special needs children of New York City and their families. In a sense, this is a potential form of child abuse and neglect, for which we will all be paying the price later.
The NYC bus strike is still affecting thousands of children.
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