NEW YORK — More than 8,000 New York City school bus drivers and aides went on strike Wednesday morning, leaving some 152,000 students, many disabled, scrambling to find other ways to get to school.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the strike over job protection demands started at 6 a.m. About 200 bus drivers and bus matrons, who help children on and off buses, were assembled on picket lines in Queens.
"The first days will be extremely chaotic," Mr. Walcott told 1010 WINS radio. "It hasn't happened in New York City in over 33 years."
Union head Michael Cordiello told a news conference that the drivers will strike until Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the city agree to put a job security clause back into their contract.
"I came to urge the mayor to resolve this strike," said Mr. Cordiello, president of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. "It is within his power to do so."
Parents used subways, carpools and other alternatives to get their children to school, hitting slippery roads as sleet turned to rain around the city and temperatures were at or above freezing.
Peter Curry's 7-year-old daughter, Maisy, is in a wheelchair and usually is picked up by a bus with a ramp. On Wednesday, he drove her from lower Manhattan to her school in the Chelsea neighborhood.
"It means transferring her to the car, breaking down the wheelchair, getting here, setting up the wheelchair, transferring her from the car, when normally she would just wheel right into the school bus," Mr. Curry said. "She's on oxygen. There's a lot of equipment that has to be moved and transferred also."
On Staten Island, Tangaline Whiten was more than 45 minutes late delivering her second-grade son to Staten Island Community Charter School, after dropping off her daughter at Public School 60 about six miles away.
She said the distance and the extra traffic on the road made the prospect of a long strike upsetting, because it means her son would be consistently late. If the strike lasts, she said, she will consider carpooling.
"Most of the parents where I'm at are working parents, so they're finding it difficult to transport their kids, and especially to pick them up," Ms. Whiten said.
Wednesday's walkout was by the largest bus drivers union; some bus routes served by other unions were operating. The city Department of Education said approximately 3,000 bus routes out of 7,700 total were running.
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. They also include students who attend specialized school programs outside of their neighborhoods.
The city has put its contracts with private bus companies up for bid, aiming to cut costs. Local 1181 says drivers could lose their jobs suddenly when contracts expire in June.
Seeking a speedy end to the strike, a consortium of 20 bus companies filed two complaints with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, accusing the union of waging an unlawful secondary strike and of not bargaining in good faith.