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Surprise Strike Halts Boston School Bus Service

School officials said about 600 of 700 unionized drivers unexpectedly went on strike , leaving just 30 of 650 bus routes staffed. Pictured here, Boston school buses sit idle Tuesday morning at Veolia Transportation, the city's school bus contractor. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

School officials said about 600 of 700 unionized drivers unexpectedly went on strike, leaving just 30 of 650 bus routes staffed. Pictured here, Boston school buses sit idle Tuesday morning at Veolia Transportation, the city’s school bus contractor. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

BOSTON — A federal judge on Tuesday evening turned down a request to force striking Boston school bus drivers back to work.

Veolia Transportation Inc., the company that operates the buses, had sought a temporary restraining order against the drivers’ union. But an attorney for the United Steelworkers local argued an injunction against the union wasn’t appropriate because he said “rogue” employees initiated Tuesday’s surprise walkout and the union has asked them to return to work.

An attorney for Veolia said it strains credibility to believe that the union isn’t behind the near-universal work stoppage.

But a federal judge sided with the union, saying an injunction wasn’t appropriate now.

Following the judge’s decision, an “extremely angry” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said it remained unclear whether the bus drivers will return to work Wednesday morning.

Menino said parents should make other arrangements to get their children to school, and said schools will open one hour early Wednesday to accommodate their drop-off.

Earlier in the day, at a separate news conference, Menino said the strike was brought on by drivers who “agreed to a contract and now … don’t want to live up to that contract” and that he would not allow the drivers to “use our students as pawns.”

According to Boston Public Schools spokesman Lee McGuire, the walkout was prompted, in part, by union members’ opposition to a GPS system that allows parents to track buses online in real time. McGuire said the drivers also oppose changes that school officials say will ensure driver safety and improve on-time performance.

“This company, they have no respect. There’s been suspended drivers. There is a lot of rules,” Tony Depina, a driver who refused to work Tuesday, told WBUR.

The city said about 600 of 700 drivers who work for Veolia walked off the job Tuesday morning, leaving just 30 of 650 morning bus routes staffed.

About 33,000 students were affected by Tuesday’s walkout. Police officers fanned out to bus stops in the morning to inform families and in some cases actually gave kids rides to school. The MBTA also offered free rides to students with Boston school IDs.

The city said Tuesday evening that about 82 percent of students made it to school. That’s about 10 percent below normal attendance.

But many parents were frustrated. Stephen Pray, of Dorchester, had to drive his two sons to Condon Elementary School in South Boston Tuesday. He called the walkout outrageous.

“It’s not all about them [the drivers],” he said. “You know, I understand they’re a union, they gotta get paid, but this is more important. Not a paycheck.”

Both mayoral candidates — City Councilor John Connolly and state Rep. Martin Walsh — also denounced the strike in separate appearances Tuesday.

With reporting by the Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom

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  • Jacob Thomas

    If they want to strike, fine with me (although I think putting GPS on school buses is a no-brainer). But school bus drivers not announcing a strike is actually putting children in danger. Think of all the kids being dropped at their stops by their parents who then head off to work not knowing a bus isn’t coming. Did anyone think this through? I don’t think a single citizen is on the side of these bus drivers and this isn’t helping their already flimsy case.

    • disqus_fFOP7kjAQO

      Agree it should have been maybe announced. There are underlying reasons that it happened. Fix it. This was a spur of the moment. Bathroom breaks. Yeah that’s a great idea. It’s a time where companies are squeezing more out of there workforces without compensation. The strike could also have a benefit to the children. Do we want to teach them it’s okay to get crapped on. Oh and guess what. It’s viola transportation. Look up thomas Hock and federal complaints. This company is no stranger to strikes and racist behavior. So more than meets the eye

    • fun bobby

      you would have liked to see some scabs brought in?

  • fun bobby

    you have steelworkers driving buses for some reason. they should be working on steel somewhere

  • rich4321

    Did the GOP start a trend that it is OK to hold children hostage for ransom? What have our country become?

    • fun bobby

      hmm so you hate the GOP and striking workers? this is the kind of cognitive dissonance I come here for

      • rich4321

        Hate is a strong word. I don’t hate the Republican., In fact I voted for Republican candidates a few times when the candidate’s rhetoric sounds reasonable. There are some issues I do agree with them. I am not a diehard Democrat or a diehard liberal, I do agree with some of the Republican’s views. But this shutdown is just too unreasonable. Republican or Democrat, they are elected to do a job for the better of the country but they are NOT! The Republic set a tone, it’s OK to use the citizens as a bargaining chip, which amounts to blackmail, that is just so WRONG!
        The bus drivers use the innocent children as their bargaining chip. Holding innocent children hostages until they get their ransom. Don’t you see that’s wrong? Kids need to go to school.

        • fun bobby

          I applaud any workers standing up to get better conditions. This should make everyone appreciate how important the bus drivers are and not take them for granted. To characterize it as hostage taking is hyperbolic. its not like they stopped with kids on the buses. To me its just more evidence we need to close all the physical schools then we would not have to deal with the bus drivers or janitors or teachers and get a much better, safer education for our kids. I feel like its absurd to all lay the blame for the shutdown on the GOP for the simple fact it takes two to tango. to me its more evidence that the two party system is a failure and we need to get some normal people in there

  • fun bobby

    if I was a kid I would be pretty psyched if I could skip school for the day. on the other hand I used to have nightmares about being stuck at school

  • Liberalism is Nonsense

    If each of us were alike, our decisions, tastes, and actions would all be the same, there would be no reason for expressions such as “living my own life”, and there would be little case for liberty.

  • fun bobby

    they are not opposed to the GPS they do not like how it is being used. they want to be able to stop and go to the bathroom when they have to go. good for them for standing up for themselves

  • fun bobby

    the police were going around and giving kids rides to school. it was all over the news. lol that would not be creepy at all “hey kids get in my car its ok I am a bus driver”.

  • ethanspapa

    A WBZ Reporter interviewed a couple of parents. Whitney Burbank stated parents had to respond to a crisis situation. The women she interviewed . One with tattoos all over her Says “Man Now I gotta get up in the mourning and get my kids to school. I fell off my chair. Another with nails coming out of both sides of her lips and her tongue says i guess have to take then to work. No you get up an hour earlier and you get them their. These liberals are fools.

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