School bus maintenance and driving has long been a tricky business in New York City. In the face of mounting maintenance costs, excessive emissions and flatlining wages, the Transit Workers Union (TWU) has proposed a novel — and potentially transformative — solution for the city’s school buses.
This week, TWU international president John Samuelsen and Manhattan New York City Council member Daniel Garodnick outlined the plan in the New York Daily News:
Here’s our plan. Let’s establish a unionized, worker-owned cooperative to transport students in non-polluting (and air-conditioned) electric school buses. For the pilot, we envision the worker cooperative entering into a contract with the Board of Education to provide service on approximately 15 existing routes that are not permanently assigned to any private company.
Why electric buses?
There are approximately 9,000 diesel and gas-powered school buses traveling along thousands of school bus routes in New York City. These buses emit tons of pollution into our environment and contribute to global warming.
A group of leading scientists last year outlined what was in store for our city in the coming decades unless the burning of fossil fuels is curbed: By mid-century, the number of heat waves per year could more than triple, the number of days over 90 degrees annually could double, and the sea level could rise by nearly two feet. By 2100, the city’s flood zone could cover 99 square miles.
It’s 2017 — long past time the nation’s biggest city to adopt an Earth-friendly alternative. Electric buses are made in New York State, and a contractor providing bus service in Copiague on Long Island started using all-electric buses in September.
A pilot program utilizing all-electric buses could support local manufacturing and the creation of much-needed blue-collar jobs in the region. If New York City starts to shift towards electric school buses, more manufacturers would look to set up shop in the state.
Why a worker cooperative?
Establishing cooperatives — where the workers themselves own the business — is a smart way to address the daunting problem of income inequality. Instead of enriching faceless investors in multi-national corporations or a small group of individual owners, profits are directed toward ensuring that workers are paid good wages and benefits on which they can raise their families. The workers themselves have strong motivation to deliver a good product: job security and a better quality of life.
City Hall has already recognized the personal and societal gains worker cooperatives offer. Two years ago, the city’s Department of Small Business Services, along with partner organizations, launched the Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative. With more than $3 million in funding provided by the City Council, the it has been providing technical, financial and educational support to help create or sustain worker cooperatives.
In both fiscal year 2015 and 2016, nearly 50 worker cooperatives were created or assisted by the initiative, including a grocery store in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; a catering company in the Bronx; a landscaping business in Queens, and a janitorial services outfit in Manhattan.
“Worker cooperatives have the potential to provide entrepreneurs with access to meaningful and stable employment and improve the economic landscape across New York City,” Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop and City Chief Procurement Officer Michael Owh wrote in the latest SBS report on the project.
A board of trustees would govern this school bus cooperative. Workers would elect representatives, with some seats being set aside for other stakeholders, including parents. The board would hire a chief executive officer and staff to handle the day-to-day operations, while families would have a real voice and direct access to the highest level of the operation.