STEVE KIRSCHBAUM and Steve Gillis probably think they’re modern-day labor martyrs. The two longtime bus drivers’ union officials are facing possible termination for their roles in leading last Tuesday’s unannounced wildcat strike, an illegal work stoppage that left thousands of kids stranded on sidewalks. But the two deserve the maximum punishment for a truly dangerous act. This is a matter of child safety, not fairness to labor; what the two are accused of doing was a travesty of the collective-bargaining process that unions hold dear.
According to city officials, the two men bullied other drivers into participating in the work stoppage, defying both the local’s president and their national union, the United Steelworkers. The two men are longtime gadflies and agitators, and many city leaders would be happy to have a chance to get rid of them. But the extent to which they bear sole responsibility is still unclear. If it turns out that other drivers were equally culpable in engineering the walkout, they should face the stiffest response, too.
The action violated the union’s collective-bargaining agreement with the city’s bus operator, Veolia, which prohibits strikes and authorizes firing anyone who participates in one. It’s likely not feasible to fire every driver who failed to show up for work, but those who led the way, persuading colleagues that somehow their workplace conditions would be improved by walking off the job, should be terminated. Kirschbaum and Gillis are said to have led hundreds of drivers who trusted them into an action that has put all of their livelihoods at risk. If the allegations are true, they acted irresponsibly — as drivers, and as labor officials.