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Boston officials wary as buses roll after strike

Mark Pratt, Associated Press

Boston school busses sit idle behind a chain link fence at Veolia Transportation, the city's school bus contractor, in Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. About 600 school bus drivers have gone on strike affecting most of the school district's 33,000 students. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

BOSTON (AP) -- Wary city officials in Boston said Wednesday they're hoping school bus drivers who staged a surprise strike this week won't leave students stranded again, but they can't offer any guarantees.

Interim Superintendent of Schools John McDonough said schools will again open an hour earlier on Thursday, in case buses don't run and parents are forced to drop kids off before work. He said schools also will continue to excuse transportation-related absences.

"We do not want to do this forever," McDonough said. "We want certainty. And we want the drivers to commit to doing their jobs every day, and doing them safely and on time."

Boston school buses rolled again Wednesday, the day after about 600 drivers refused to run their routes. The wildcat strike Tuesday stranded about 33,000 children, who were shuttled to schools in police cars and offered free rides on public transportation.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino has expressed outrage over the strike and vowed to punish those responsible.

"We can't let this rogue element run Boston's public schools or the transportation issue," he said Wednesday.

Officials from the United Steelworkers Local 8751, which represents the drivers, presented a list of demands Wednesday to the company contracted by the city to transport students, Veolia Transportation Inc.

John Dunlap, the city's chief of labor and personnel, said the union said there would be no more job actions. But because the union disavowed the strike on Tuesday, which it said was led by rogue members, it was unclear if its assurances meant the end of any work stoppages.

"We very much hope that that proves to be the case," Dunlap said.

Dunlap said Veolia officials told him they were reviewing the demands, though they did not share the specifics with him.

Valerie Michael, a spokeswoman for Veolia, said that talks with the union were continuing Wednesday afternoon but that she had nothing to report.

Drivers picketing outside the bus yards Tuesday said the company was not honoring the terms of their contract. They've also said they're frustrated with Veolia's treatment of them, including changes in their health care plan, failing to provide key route information and ineffective communications.

The drivers' union said drivers agreed to return to work Wednesday morning after Veolia agreed to meet with the union Wednesday to discuss grievances.

Students had an 82 percent attendance rate Tuesday, about 10 percent lower than a normal day, the school department said.


Associated Press writer Jay Lindsay contributed to this report.