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Striking School Bus Drivers Protest, Call Mayor Bloomberg 'Heartless'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Thousands of striking school bus drivers and their supporters held a protest Sunday, calling Mayor Michael Bloomberg "heartless" as the city prepares to open competitive bidding for new contracts.

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall Sunday, demanding job security.

``We're not asking for one benefit, or 10 cents,'' said John Scotto, a Staten Island driver. ``It's simply for the right to come back to work in September.''

The striking drivers walked off their jobs Jan. 16. The strike stemmed from a decision by Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott have to pick the most competitive bus companies to cut the costs of busing about 150,000 students to school, which have risen from $100 million in 1979 to $1.1 billion today.

Michael Cordiello of Local 1181 said the drivers would strike until Mayor Bloomberg and the city agree to put a job security clause back into their contract. The union demanded that job security provisions be part of the competitive bidding process.

But the Bloomberg administration has insisted that it cannot do any such thing, and that such a clause would be illegal.

On Sunday, protesters filled a Broadway sidewalk behind police barricades.

Among them was Noah Gotbaum, a Manhattan widower raising three children -- a 13-year-old girl, an 11-year-old boy and an 8-year-old boy with special needs who was being bused to public school. The other two take public transportation.

The city is ``trying to cut costs,'' said Gotbaum. ``And the workers are saying, `If you want to squeeze the profits of the bus companies, that's fine. But stop trying to lower the bids on the backs of the workers.'''

Guaranteeing job security means attracting and keeping workers with more experience, Gotbaum said.

``I need and count on these folks every single day,'' he said. ``They're as important to me as the teachers.''

Scotto, a father of four, said the families of the more than 8,000 striking drivers, matrons and mechanics also ``are truly suffering now.''

He said 60 percent of them are women, and more than 80 percent minorities, making an average salary of $35,000.

The union is demanding that drivers continue to get the job protections they've had for decades.

More than 100,000 students have had to find other ways to get to school.

``The mayor forced this, he orchestrated it,'' Scotto said. ``He's heartless and ruthless.''

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.

The city doesn't directly hire the drivers and matrons helping kids on and off buses; they work for the private companies.

Any company is free to submit a proposal to the city on Monday.

Local 1181 officials say members could suddenly lose their jobs when contracts expire in June.

Where do you stand on the strike? Leave your comments below...

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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