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Strike halts Boston school bus service

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

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

BOSTON — A federal judge has turned down a request to force striking Boston school bus drivers back to work.

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.

But a federal judge sided with the union, saying an injunction wasn’t appropriate now.

School officials say the walkout by most of the city’s 700 bus drivers stranded about 33,000 students.

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.”

Veolia argued the drivers have “harmed the public welfare” by taking away the only ride some children have to school. It said the strikers had “created an emergency of such grave and serious nature as to require issuance forthwith of a temporary restraining order.”

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.

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