STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — February 2, 2013. “Staten Island Chuck” is the local zoo’s most famous resident, weather forecaster, and optimistic prognosticator — but this year, even though Chuck predicted an early Spring, there was a shadow cast on Groundhog Day.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been battling the United Federation of Teachers for most of his tenure, currently on the issue of teacher evaluations. Recently the mayor announced his intention to seek competitive bids for school bus contracts as a cost cutting measure — a move Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union responded to by calling a strike. The ATU represents drivers and matrons currently employed by bus companies serving NYC’s Department of Education. The disruption in service angered some parents who formed a group called Parents In Support of Transportation or “PIST.” Bloomberg reacted to the strike and the frustrated parents — including the PIST members who support the strikers — by hiring replacement workers, exacerbating the conflict.
Bloomberg, the self-proclaimed education mayor, is now engaged in a two front struggle with labor: battling UFT educators on the issue of what constitutes a fair evaluation system, and the ATU on the issue of “competitive bids” which some labor activists regard as an attempt to award contracts to companies that use non-union labor.
On Saturday, Groundhog Day, the Staten Island Zoo held its annual prognostication event. Staten Island Chuck, the resident groundhog and meteorologist, was on hand to perform his customary role of predicting when Spring will arrive. But Mayor Bloomberg, who traditionally takes part in the ceremony, was not present. In 2009, Chuck bit Bloomberg after the mayor grabbed the groundhog, attempting to pull the animal out of its lair. The mayor’s press office offered no explanation for his absence this year but Bloomberg’s post-bite incident, specially made, kevlar gloves were wielded by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Chuck did not see his shadow, thus predicting an early Spring. But a short distance away, just outside the zoo’s main gate, the missing mayor’s shadow was clearly visible.
Over a hundred members of ATU Local 1181 picketed the event, braving frigid temperatures and a biting wind. Several of the strikers told this reporter that they want to be back at work — and to know that their jobs are safe. “I miss my children,” one matron said.
The ATU members were joined on the picket line by a number of teachers, active and retired, and members of the Communications Workers of America, Local 1102.