Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Transit Strike (Day One)

I usually take the 6 train to the 5 train to the 21 bus to get to my school in the Bronx each morning. Today, the city's transit workers, many of whom make more than the city's teachers, decided to essentially hold the people of NYC hostage by striking. The strike also essentially shut down the city's schools. I may as well throw away all my lesson plans for the week. To get to work this morning, I began walking from 67th St. and Second Avenue to 97th St. and Madison to catch a ride from Nadine, one of my teaching colleagues. Meanwhile, two other car-less teachers were walking from different parts of the city to meet her as well.

Nadine couldn't drive below 96th Street to pick us up because the city implemented a traffic control rule that cars needed to have at least four passengers to drive below 96th Street in Manhattan. Never mind that she was trying to get below 96th Street to pick up three teachers, then turn around and take us up to the Bronx. All of the traffic rules were focused on streamlining things for people who work in downtown Manhattan. As I was walking, Nadine called to inform me that she could only cross from the West side of Manhattan to the East side at 110th St., so I kept walking up to 110th to meet her. She got completely stuck in bottleneck traffic on 110th, so I just started walking west to find her. In the end, I walked over 40 blocks on a frigid December morning. By the time I reached Nadine, my face and fingers were numb.

Overall, it took me two and a half hours to get to work this morning. It took one of my colleagues four hours to get to work from Brooklyn. (Good thing I don't live in Queens anymore - that would have been a nightmare.) Attendance was abysmal today. Most of our students depend on public transportation. Others simply took advantage of an excuse to miss school. Still, it was worth it to get to work because I got to help one of my students finish her scholarship essay about how music changed her life.

When school ended, I then had to figure out how I was going to get down to the Upper West Side of Manhattan by 3:30pm for my second job working with Justin, a four-year-old boy with autism. Nadine usually works late in the Bronx, but there was luckily a "rapid dismissal" drill at our school today, so Nadine left early and gave me a ride to Justin's. Still, I was 20 minutes late with all the traffic. I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow when Nadine can't give me a ride until 4pm. I guess I'll either walk from the Bronx to Manhattan or fork over a huge taxi fare.

This transit strike is just crazy. Kids were out there wandering around the city's streets in the freezing cold, trying to figure out how to get to school and back. School was completely disrupted for over a million kids. There's no way I can support this strike, especially not after reading in the New York Times that the average base salary of NYC's transit workers is $47,000, and $55,000 with overtime. Yes, the cost of living in NYC is crazy, but should the city's ticket booth clerks and train conductors really make as much as (and in some cases more than) a teacher with a Master's degree? And teachers don't get overtime for hours spent at home preparing lessons, grading papers, and calling parents. Now the NYC transit workers are striking for more money? This strike is really going to hurt their already poor images. It's no secret that NYC's transit workers aren't exactly the most courteous of employees, which is one reason why so few New Yorkers can find it within themselves to support this stike.

The NYC teacher's union (UFT) recently negotiated a new contract and long overdue raise with the city after teachers worked for years without a contract. We still don't get paid maternity leave or a salary befitting our job responsibilities and education levels, but we did not strike. How could we possibly justify leaving already under-served kids without teachers? We knew what the salary was when we took the jobs, and although most of us feel that we deserve more, we're not going to hold our schools hostage by striking. I don't understand how the transit workers' union can justify their action. The International Transit Workers' Union is even speaking up against this strike.

I will walk for three hours if I have to to get to work with Justin after school tomorrow. He was a little angel today. When I said goodbye to him, he said "I love you so," which made me forget about all the craziness and injustices of the day. I walked home through Central Park feeling elated. What a day. Now Maureen from Brooklyn is sleeping on my couch so she can at least start from Upper Manhattan with me tomorrow, when we'll do it all over again.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like a nightmare! Good thing that strike is over. I didn't agree with it either. At least you got to work with a couple good students. Justin sounds adorable.

3:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't imagine what you have gone through with this strike. Sounded like the who city was held up. And for those of you who try to make that difference in someone life, it just became that much harder to bring that smile or lesson plan to them. I really envie you and what your doing for the students and Justin.

1:27 PM  

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