The illegal wildcat strike launched by Boston school bus drivers on Tuesday was a deeply irresponsible act, leaving the 33,000 children who rely on buses scrambling to find a way to school. Mayor Menino has rightly promised a tough response, potentially including firing drivers who participated. Hundreds of drivers failed to report for work, even though they have a labor contract in place until 2014. The action violated a basic tenet of collective bargaining; the drivers’ national union, the United Steelworkers of America, called for members to return to the job immediately.
However the strike ends — a federal judge declined Tuesday evening to order the bus drivers back to work — the local bus drivers’ union has clearly gone rogue. The action appears to have been engineered by a faction within the union. The local’s president, Dumond Louis, was booed down at the Readville bus yard when he urged members to go back to work; members also ignored a written order from the steelworkers’ union. At best, drivers are being led astray and into illegal activities by a few militant members spoiling for a fight. That’s still no excuse for leaving kids stranded at bus stops.
The strike, which came with no advance warning, stems from complaints about bus contractor Veolia. The company took over this year from problem-plagued First Student Inc. and has been more strict about enforcing contract requirements. For instance, Boston bus drivers, who are paid an average of $50,000 a year, now have to receive their keys from a manager in the morning. That’s a basic safety step that ensures they show up fit to drive. Veolia also fired a nonunion manager whom drivers supported, and has made GPS data showing where buses are located available to parents through a smartphone app, Where’s My School Bus? None of these moves violated the union contract, and none merited the response children and parents suffered on Tuesday.
The city and the contractor can’t let this action go unpunished. Mayoral candidates John Connolly and Marty Walsh issued appropriately firm statements. Fines and the hiring of replacement drivers are among the city’s options should the stoppage recur. The strike left children waiting for buses that never arrived, and parents groping for last-second child care. These are more than inconveniences. The city must determine who, from union leaders on down, set in motion this wildcat action, and those responsible for putting children in danger should face punishments up to and including the loss of their jobs.