Drivers of New York's yellow school buses planned to go on strike Wednesday, leaving 152,000 children looking for a new way to get to class on time.
The drivers' union announced the strike Monday after failing to come to an agreement with the city over job security. The strike will also include staff known as matrons who oversee the children as they get on and off buses, AFP reported.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the strike "regrettable" and said the union was "abandoning" the tens of thousands of students and their families who rely on school buses on a daily basis.
The city announced a series of measures aimed at alleviating the hassle for parents. Subway tickets will be given free of charge to students and parents using cars or taxis for the school run will be reimbursed.
Michael Cordiello, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, said there was only a last sliver of hope that his 8,800 members would call off the action.
"While we remain optimistic that we can reach an agreement, we are here today to announce that local 1181 will strike effective Wednesday morning," he told a press conference.
"The mayor can end the strike. The mayor can come and talk to us and end the strike."
Bloomberg said the bus drivers and matrons were refusing to allow competition for their services, which he said cost $1.1 billion a year, or more than 10 times what the city paid in 1979.
Bloomberg said the $6,900 price tag per child was "far more than any other school system in our country." He noted that Los Angeles only pays $3,100 per student.
The city had decided to open new contracts for 1,100 bus routes set to expire this year to outside bidders.
"Unfortunately, the school bus drivers' union is demanding that the bids include job protections the city is not legally allowed to provide," Bloomberg said.
Cordiello said his union members were only interested in maintaining a high quality service with experienced drivers and matrons, something he said would suffer if new workers were hired.
"We would be striking for the safety of the children," he said. "Experience: that's something that cannot be replaced."
Cordiello also denied that union members were insensitive to the city's budget woes, saying that starting salaries for drivers were $14 an hour and for matrons $11 an hour -- "hardly a living wage" in America's biggest city.