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Boston Public School Bus Drivers Stage Surprise Strike

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BOSTON (CBS) – Hundreds of Boston public school bus drivers surprisingly walked off the job Tuesday morning in a labor dispute, catching many families and even the mayor off guard.

Read: School Bus Driver Strike Coverage

Approximately 33,000 students were stranded when 300 of the bus drivers’ union 700 members refused to work.

Boston Public Schools called the move “an illegal work action” to protest safety and performance improvements.

Only 30 of the city’s 650 school buses were actually on the road Tuesday morning.

School buses parked at the Freeport Street lot in Dorchester. (Photo by Scott Eck - WBZ NewsRadio 1030)

School buses parked at the Freeport Street lot in Dorchester. (Photo by Scott Eck – WBZ NewsRadio 1030)

The school system sent out automated phone calls to all families, but it came too late, according to most parents.

All schools remained open, but students who checked in late or who were absent were excused for the day.

The drivers work for the city’s bus contractor Veolia Transportation, which has had no comment yet about the strike.

Veolia Transportation locked the gate on its drivers Tuesday. (Photo by William Meservey - WBZ-TV)

Veolia Transportation locked the gate on its drivers Tuesday. (Photo by William Meservey – WBZ-TV)

Drivers gathering at school bus headquarters in Dorchester told WBZ-TV’s David Robichaud they’re upset with Veolia and its’ strict safety conditions, which they claim don’t allow them any bathroom breaks during their shifts.

They also claim the company shows no respect for them and operates on a “slash and burn” policy when it comes to making staffing changes.

Parents are furious with both the drivers and the city for not giving them any advance notice of the strike.

Some children were brought to school by police.

Boston police brought some children to school in this van Tuesday. (Photo by Karen Twomey-WBZ NewsRadio 1030)

Boston police brought some children to school in this van Tuesday. (Photo by Karen Twomey-WBZ NewsRadio 1030)

The mayor’s office said any student who shows a valid student identification will be able to ride the train or MBTA for free Tuesday.

Boston public schools spokesman Brian Ballou told WBZ-TV they had monitors at the bus depots Tuesday because they were aware of the possibility of a strike.

It’s not clear yet why parents were not warned ahead of time.

“We took steps in anticipation of this,” Ballou said. “We believed that this was brewing so we did take appropriate steps and that’s why we were able to react quickly.”

WBZ’s David Wade pressed Ballou, asking him if parents had “any idea this was a possibility this morning, and why not, if you folks knew?”

“Very few people knew about this,” Ballou said.

Mayor Tom Menino ripped the drivers for the wildcat strike, calling it “totally unnecessary.

“They agreed to a good contract, a very good contract. Now they don’t want to live up to that contract, that’s the issue,” Menino said.

Read: Boston School Bus Drivers’ Contract (.pdf)

There has been no formal comment yet from the bus drivers’s union.

United Steelworkers of America Local 8751 represents about 700 school bus drivers in the city of Boston.

A hotline was also set up for information at (617) 635-9520. You can also call the mayor’s 24-hour-hotline at (617) 635-4500.

Families can check the location of their school bus at schoolbus.bostonpublicschools.org.

BPS has posted much more information on its website.  You can read it here.

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