Surprise strike halts Boston school bus service

BOSTON (AP) — A surprise strike by Boston school bus drivers stranded thousands of students Tuesday, forcing some to hitch rides with cops, harried parents and even a police superintendent, while others just stayed home.

Most of the city district's 700 bus drivers suddenly went idle amid a dispute with the contractor that employs them, stranding some 33,000 students, according to district officials.

Drivers picketing outside the bus yards said the company was not honoring the terms of their contract. Schools spokesman Lee McGuire said the walkout was prompted, in part, by the union's opposition to a GPS system that allows parents to track buses online in real time.

An outraged Mayor Tom Menino called the bus drivers "angry people who don't like to follow the rules." He called the strike illegal and said he would pursue every possible legal avenue to force drivers back to work.

"We will not allow them to use our students as pawns," he said.

The company that operates the buses, Veolia Transportation Inc., went to court Tuesday afternoon seeking an injunction "to compel workers to go back to work and cease illegal activity."

The national office of the United Steelworkers, which represents the drivers, said it did not condone the strike and had instructed them to go back to work as soon as possible. The local union's voicemail box was full and no one immediately responded to an email seeking comment.

The city scrambled to find ways to get kids to classes, with police shuttling some to school in cruisers and vans, while those with valid student ID cards were allowed to ride transit buses and subways for free. Police Supt. Daniel Linskey tweeted a picture of two children he took to school, saying one was happy because he didn't want to miss gym class.

The strike was particularly disrupting for Michelle Novelle, a mother of nine. Six attend public school, including two autistic children who are normally picked up by school buses right at the family's Roslindale home.

"I think it's inexcusable not to at least give us the courtesy of a heads up, for those of who have kids with special needs who need routine and predictably," Novelle said. She said she learned of the walkout through an automated call from the city shortly after 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Novelle's oldest child took public transit to her high school and she drove the other five to the three different schools they attend.

"It was nearly impossible to get kids to where they had to go this morning," she said.

Last week, Mylisha Austin landed a job working in a hospital billing office after six months of searching. She was afraid Tuesday that she'd be fired for taking a day off so soon to care for her third-grader.

"After searching for jobs and so many interviews, here I go calling out," said the 35-year-old mother of six from Roxbury. "It doesn't look good." But, she said, "family comes first."

Afternoon activities, including sports, were canceled Tuesday. Menino said he wanted drivers back on the job Wednesday.