- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — More than 8,000 New York City school bus drivers and matrons went on strike over job protection Wednesday morning, leaving some 152,000 students, many disabled, trying to find other ways to get to school.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the strike started at 6 a.m. Wednesday. About 200 bus drivers and bus matrons were assembled on picket lines in the Queens section of the city.

“The first days will be extremely chaotic,” Walcott told 1010 WINS radio. “It hasn’t happened in New York City in over 33 years.”

The union did not immediately return calls and emails seeking comment.

Most of the city’s roughly 1.1 million public school students take public transportation or walk to school.

Those who rely on the buses include 54,000 special education students and others who live far from schools or transportation.

Parents have made plans to use subways, carpools and other alternatives, hitting slippery roads as sleet turned to rain around the city and temperatures were at or above freezing.

The city has put its contracts with private bus companies up for bid, aiming to cut costs. The Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union says drivers could suddenly lose their jobs when contracts expire in June.

The city plans to distribute transit cards to students who could take buses and subways and to reimburse parents who would have to drive or take taxis.

“We will get our children to school,” Walcott said.

To do that, some parents had pieced together a patchwork of plans, such as a driving one child to one school and arranging a carpool to take a sibling to another school.

The union announced Monday it would strike amid a complicated dispute.

The city doesn’t directly hire the bus drivers and matrons, who work for private companies that have city contracts. The workers make an average of about $35,000 a year, with a driver starting at $14 an hour and potentially making as much as $29 an hour over time, according to union President Michael Cordiello.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the city must seek competitive bids to save money.

The union sought job protections for current drivers in the new contracts. The city said that the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, has barred it from including such provisions because of competitive bidding laws; the union said that’s not so.

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