NEW YORK - The Panel for Educational Policy delivered a major blow Wednesday night to thousands of school bus drivers who went on strike earlier this year.

The panel approved new bus contracts without the employee protection provisions that the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 had been fighting for to guarantee their jobs, salaries and benefits based on seniority.

The five-week strike was suspended in mid-February with a promise by city officials to revisit the issue.

The Department of Education (DOE) says removing the employee protection provisions will allow for a competitive bidding process that will save the city money.

Union President Michael Cordiello says he’s looking forward to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's departure from office because some candidates have expressed support for the union. Cordiello also did not discard the possibility that there may be another strike in the future.

The new contracts will go into effect in September.