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Menino Says School Bus Strike Was Led By ‘Rogue Element’ Of The Union

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BOSTON (CBS) – The buses arrived at the Murphy K-8 school in Dorchester Wednesday afternoon, but parent Cara Gillis was still picking up her children. “Up until 15 or 20 minutes ago we weren’t sure if the buses would be coming so we’re covering all our bases,” she said.

The uncertainty continues because the talking continued. Union representatives and the Veolia bus company were haggling over contract grievances that led to a surprising work stoppage Tuesday, the two sides meeting for hours at a conference room in Quincy.

A full day of heated negotiations came to an abrupt end, when according to the drivers, the bus company suddenly announced it was putting two union leaders on leave from their jobs.

The union’s lawyer says the decision undoes all the progress that was made in earlier talks.

“We’re not condoning any work stoppage or labor action but the company does have to understand its actions have ramifications and it issued a provocation today,” said Alfred O’Connell, attorney for the United Steel Workers.

The bus company itself says the day went well, and they’re promising to return to the table soon.

“We want the company to respect us and treat us the way we deserve to be treated,” said driver Leroy Fernandez. Thousands of students were stranded Tuesday over issues from payroll problems to tracking mileage to overtime.

Mayor Thomas Menino says drivers will be docked a day’s pay, and the city shares parents uncertainty about bus transportation Thursday. “We are not out of the woods,” said interim school superintendent John McDonough. “Until we have confidence the bus drivers’ union will stop using the city’s children as leverage.”

Shop steward Jean Claude Toussaint says he can guarantee the drivers will be on their routes in the morning. “Absolutely, we care for those kids,” he said. Wednesday morning 91 percent of buses arrived on time, close to the average of 93 percent.

But Mayor Menino says drivers are still being bullied. “It was led by a rogue element of the union and we will deal with that rogue element,” he said.

It leaves parents still making contingency plans for now, and one grandmother Linda McLean, getting ready to drive her grandson Thursday. “What if they change their mind and they don’t come?”

WBZ-TV’s Beth Germano and Jim Armstrong contributed to this report.

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