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Calling a strike to claim victory
Llamando a una huelga para cantar victoria

Calling a strike to claim victory

Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer

Striking bus drivers and matrons gather on Spofford Avenue to picket.

It is cold. But the below-freezing weather has done nothing to diminish the resolve of bus drivers and matrons in Local 1181, of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the largest of the city’s bus drivers’ unions. Since the strike was called at 6 a.m. on Wed., Jan. 16th, after Mayor Bloomberg sought to eliminate a job security clause in their contract, Bronx union members have greeted dawn outside the garages where their buses are kept. The strikers picket in shifts, from 6 in the morning until midnight. The out-of-commission buses sit idle as the strikers, who number about three dozen per shift, march and chant to keep themselves warm. Their words form small vapor clouds above the mass of bundled bodies. Outside of one garage on Spofford Avenue and Drake Street, as dawn broke this past Fri., Jan. 25th, the workers warmed their hands by two bonfires contained in metal garbage bins.

“Because of this job, [I can] send my daughters to college,” said bus matron Mayra Monegro.
The faces of those on strike might be surprising: many on the picket line are immigrants and women. Many are are single mothers. They are worried about facing an uncertain future without job protection. “I am 59 years old. What am I going to do? How am I going to find a job? Nobody is going to save me,” said Catalina Gonzalez, a single mother of four who has worked for 17 years in the business. While her face was barely visible above her scarf, her frustration was clearly evident. She is not alone. Bronx resident Mayra Monegro is a bus matron. Matrons generally make $24,000 annually. It is not much, and to supplement her income, Monegro works as a baker on the weekends. Still, she is grateful for her union job, as it adds to her ability to support her daughters’ pursuit of a higher education. “I owe it to this job,” said Monegro. “Because of this job, I could afford paying my credit cards, to send my daughters to college.”

A fire is daily lit to help keep picketers warm.
A fire is daily lit to help keep picketers warm.

Losing the security of the work as a matron will undermine the capacity to provide for her family, she argued, the anger in her voice rising. “Mayor Bloomberg wants me on welfare,” she said. More than 8,000 New York City school bus drivers and aides went on strike over job protection Wednesday morning, a decision that affected over 152,000 students and families who rely on the daily service. Union head Michael Cordiello has said the drivers will strike until Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city agree to put a job security clause back into their contract. Those in the union see the Mayor’s decision not to renew their contract as a blow to a job that has long been seen as a safety net for the working class, and means to escape poverty. “People keep their seniority, people keep their work. We know where we’re going every year. We never had to go year to year hoping we still had a job,” said George Saint Victor, the shop’s steward. “There are other ways the Mayor can manage the budget,” he added. “We are at the bottom of the barrel. We are not the problem.” “These are people who finally moved up the economic ladder, not to be rich, but to pay rent and food and clothe their family, and all of a sudden he wants to take away this economic ladder, and have these families fall down the economic pit,” added John Bisbano, who has been a bus driver for 29 years. Bus drivers average an annual salary of $34,000.

Women dominate the picket line, many of whom are single mothers.

For many of the women on the picket line, the work also leavens the heavy burden of adequate financial support for their families. “This job gives women an opportunity to bring money to their family,” added Camila Lopez, a mother of two who has been a bus driver for 13 years. Compounding the problems is that many of students the workers transport are disabled or have special needs, and trying to find other ways to get to school can pose unique challenges. “[Some with behavioral problems] go from one extreme to the other,” said matron Michele Posimato of the students. “There can be scary situations, but we get trained to handle them,” added Monegro. Matrons like Monegro are CPR certified, and take classes to help them respond to the needs of their charges. It is the union, she said, that makes certain to impose the strict standards. Private companies, she argued, can often only require two hours of training, while the union matrons have a week of specialized training. There is also random drug testing.

“We are at the bottom of the barrel,” said shop steward George St. Vincent.

And as workers get to know their charges on their daily rounds, said Monegro, they care for them with personal attention. “We get accustomed to our kids. I like all the kids I have and I try my best to understand their situation. I try my best to be on their side. The day the strike was announced my students were asking me, ‘It is true that you don’t like us?’ It hurts. What’s going on is sad.” Monegro was loathe to leave her charges behind, but decided it was necessary in order to keep her job, and to ensure the students have qualified drivers and matrons. The last time Local 1181 went on strike was in 1979. That strike lasted 14 weeks. And from what strikers describe, the Mayor and parents of special needs students should be prepared for a long haul. “We don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we have to be strong. We are ready and willing to do whatever it takes,” said Monegro.


Parents be warned: Strikers say they are in it for the long haul.

·   All students who currently receive yellow bus service may receive a MetroCard. MetroCards are being made available at the schools and should be requested through your school’s general office.

·  Parents of pre-school and school-age children with IEP’s requiring transportation from their home directly to their school as well as parents of general education children in grades K-2 may also request a MetroCard for the parent or guardian to act as the child’s escort to school.

· As an alternative to MetroCards for parents whose children receive busing from their home, or students in grades K-6 receiving yellow bus service from a school bus stop who live in areas where public transportation between home and school is not readily available, the Department of Education is offering reimbursement for actual transportation costs. Parents who drive their children to school will be reimbursed are a rate of 55 cents per mile. Parents who use a taxi or car service to transport their child to school will be reimbursed for the trip upon completion of reimbursement forms that includes a receipt for provided services. Requests for reimbursements should be made weekly on forms that will be available on the DOE web site and in your school’s general office. We encourage families driving or using car service to carpool with their neighbors whenever possible.

·  Students who arrive at school late because of disruptions to yellow bus service will be excused for up to two hours, while children who are unable to attend school will be marked absent with an explanation code that will ensure their attendance record is not negatively affected.

· Afterschool programs will remain open, but no school busing will be provided.

· In the unfortunate event that students cannot get to school, the Department will be posting materials online for every grade and core subject so that students can continue their learning at home during the strike.

· The NYPD will deploy additional transit officers and crossing guards to help manage an increase in the number of students using public transportation and walking to school. Additional school safety officers will also be deployed to public schools.

For more information, visit  

Llamando a una huelga para cantar victoria

Historia y fotos por Robin Elisabeth Kilmer

 Huelguistas de Local 1181 corean y marchan para mantenerse calientes.

Huelguistas de Local 1181 corean y marchan para mantenerse calientes.

Esta haciendo frío.

Pero la temperatura bajo punto de congelación no ha hecho nada por disminuir la decisión de los conductores de autobuses y las matronas de la Local 1181, de la Amalgamated Transit Union, la unión más grande de conductores de autobuses de la ciudad.

Desde que se inició la huelga a las 6 a.m. del miércoles 16 de enero, luego de que el Alcalde Bloomberg procurara eliminar la cláusula de seguridad de trabajo en su contrato, los miembros de la unión del Bronx han amanecido afuera de los garajes donde se guardan sus autobuses.

Los huelguistas piquetean en turnos, de 6 en la mañana hasta la medianoche.

Los autobuses fuera de la comisión estaban inmóviles mientras los huelguistas, quienes son unas tres docenas por turno, marchan y corean para mantenerse calientes. Sus palabras forman unas pequeñas nubes de vapor por encima de la masa de cuerpos abrigados.

Afuera de un garaje en las calles Spofford y Drake, al amanecer de este pasado viernes 25 de enero, los trabajadores calentaban sus años con dos fogatas dentro de dos botes de basura metálicos.

“Por este trabajo, pude enviar a mis hijas a la universidad”, dijo Mayra Monegro.

Los rostros de aquellos en huelga pueden sorprender a muchos: un número de aquellos en la línea de piquete son inmigrantes y mujeres, muchas de las cuales son madres solteras.

Les preocupa el enfrentar un futuro incierto sin la protección de su trabajo.

“Yo tengo 59 años. Qué voy a hacer? Como voy a encontrar un trabajo? Nadie va a salvarme”, dijo Catalina González, una madre soltera de cuatro, quien ha trabajado en el negocio durante 17 años.

Aunque su rostro era a penas visible por encima de su bufanda, su frustración era claramente evidente.
Ella no es la única.

Mayra Monegro, residente el Bronx, es matrona. Generalmente las matronas devengan $24,000 anualmente. No es mucho, y para suplementar sus ingresos, Monegro trabaja los fines de semana como repostera.

Aun así, esta agradecida por su trabajo en la unión, ya que le suma a su habilidad para mantener las aspiraciones de su hija de una educación superior.

“Se lo debo a este trabajo”, dijo Monegro. “Porque de este trabajo, pude pagar mis tarjetas de crédito, para enviar a mis hijas a la universidad”.

A fire is daily lit to help keep picketers warm.
Huelguistas se calientan junto al fuego.

El perder la seguridad del trabajo como matrona socavará la capacidad de proveer para su familia, argumentó, creciendo el enojo en su voz.

“El Alcalde Bloomberg me quiere en asistencia pública”, dijo ella.

El miércoles en la mañana, más de 8,000 conductores de autobuses de la ciudad de Nueva York y asistentes se fueron a la huelga para proteger sus empleos, una decisión que afectó a más de 152,000 estudiantes y familias que dependen de este servicio diariamente.

El jefe de la union Michael Cordiello ha dicho que los conductores estarán en huelga hasta tanto el Alcalde Michael Bloomberg y la ciudad se pongan de acuerdo en reponer la cláusula de seguridad de empleo en su contrato.

Ellos en la unión ven la decisión del Alcalde de no renovar su contrato como un golpe a un empleo que ha sido visto largamente como una red de seguridad para la clase trabajadora, y significa un escape de la pobreza.

“La gente mantiene su antigüedad, la gente mantiene su trabajo. Nosotros sabemos dónde vamos cada ano. Nunca teníamos que ir de año en año esperando tener un empleo”, expreso George Saint Victor, el sobrecargo de la tienda.

“Existen otros medios con los que el Alcalde puede manejar el presupuesto”, agregó el. “Nosotros estamos en el fondo del barril. No somos el problema”.

“Estas son personas quienes finalmente escalaron económicamente, no para ser ricos, sino para pagar la renta y alimentar y vestir a su familia, y de repente el quiere remover ese escalón económico, y hacer que estas familias caigan en el foso económico”, agrego John Bisbano, quien ha sido conductor de autobús 29 años.

Los conductores de autobús promedian un salario anual de $34,000.

Mujeres dominan en la huelga; muchas son madres solteras.

Para muchas de las mujeres en la línea de piquete como Monegro, el trabajo también aligera la carga de apoyo financiero adecuado para sus familias.

“Este trabajo le da a las mujeres una oportunidad de llevar dinero a su familia”, agrego Camila López, madre de dos quien tiene 13 años conduciendo un autobús.

La huelga es más impactante ya que muchos estudiantes, a quienes los trabajadores transportan, son discapacitados o tienen necesidades especiales, y el tratar de encontrar otras vías para llegar a la escuela puede presentar desafíos únicos.

“[Algunos con problemas de conducta] van de un extremo a otro”, dijo la matrona Michelle Posimato refiriéndose a los estudiantes.

“Pueden haber situaciones alarmantes, pero nos entrenan para manejar esas situaciones”, agregó Monegro.

Las matronas como Monegro, están certificados para CPR (Resucitación Cardio Pulmonar), y toman clases para responder a las necesidades de sus encomendados. Es la unión, dijo ella, quien se asegura de imponer estrictos estándares.

Las compañías privadas, argumentó ella, pueden con frecuencia requerir dos horas de entrenamiento, mientras que los matronas de la unión tienen una semana de entrenamiento especializado. Se hacen también pruebas de drogas al azar.

Y a medida que los trabajadores conocen a sus encomendados en sus rutas diarias, dijo Monegro, se preocupan por estos con atención personal.

“Estamos al fondo del barril”, dijo el auxiliar George St. Vincent.

“Nos acostumbramos a nuestros chicos. Me gustan todos los niños que tengo y trato lo mejor que puedo de comprender su situación. Hago lo mejor que puedo para estar de su lado. El día que se anunció la huelga mis estudiantes me preguntaban, ‘Es cierto que no te caemos bien?’ Duele. Es triste lo que está sucediendo”.

Monegro detestó el dejar a sus encomendados solos, pero decidió que era necesario a fin de mantener su empleo, y garantizar que los estudiantes tengan conductores y matronas calificados.

La última vez que la Local 1181 se fue de huelga fue en el 1979. Esa huelga duró 14 semanas.

Y por lo que describen los huelguistas, el Alcalde y los padres de estudiantes con necesidades especiales deberán estar preparados para una larga jornada.

“No sabemos cómo vamos a hacerlo, pero tenemos que ser fuertes. Estamos listos y dispuestos a hacer lo que sea necesario”, dijo Monegro.

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