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Rockin' the Boat: Santa Cruz Bus Drivers Threaten Strike

An ongoing contract dispute between bus drivers, and Santa Cruz Metro Transit officials has reached a breaking point. Drivers have threatened to walk off the job September 8 if no deal is reached. FRSC reporter Vinny Lombardo has more. 4 minutes

This piece was produced for Rockin' the Boat, which airs Fridays from 3-5 pm on Freak Radio 101.1 FM in Santa Cruz.

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unions can be wrong, too

Let me preface these remarks by saying that I strongly support unions and organized labor, which is precisely why I'm concerned that UTU Local 23 is engaging in bad policy.

This FRSC story fails to mention that riders have already shouldered a 30% reduction in service and 50% increase in fares over the past few years. If drivers don't shoulder some of the costs of health care, transit riders will, through even less service and higher fares. As it is, METRO is having to spend reserve funds to maintain current service levels. METRO drivers already have some of the highest wages among transit bus operators in the nation, while management pay is far below that of other districts. The drivers accepted a raise three years ago with the understanding that they would have to pick up health care costs in the future, and now they refuse. This is completely unfair, and a strike will harm the most vulnerable and needy members of our Santa Cruz community. UTU 23 is also foolish for criticising spending on the MetroBase project, which will save $2 million in operating costs per year, money that could be used to boost service or increase drivers' benefits. UTU 23 is incredibly myopic and gives organized labor a bad name. If they cared about their passengers, they wouldn't threaten to abandon them as leverage to demand benefits to which they agreed three years ago they shouldn't be entitled. The real injustice here is not against the drivers, but against the passengers.

Re: Rockin' the Boat: Santa Cruz Bus Drivers Threaten Strike

Bravo, Concerned Transit Rider!

Tell it like it is!

I am baffled: Why would the union would risk what is by far the best job most of them could ever hope to get by striking for minor changes in their contracts? And to risk their so-very-comfortable positions by threatening to hold economic hostage some of the most vulnerable and needy sectors of the Santa Cruz population? This is not a good way to gather sympathy and support.

Plenty of highly
qualified replacements

There are large numbers of exceptionally well-qualified candidates to fill vacated Metro drivers' positions. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the caliber of the Metro driver pool would be substantilally improved if a complete, merit-based-only rehiring was done.

To name one example, I think of the long-haul big-rig truck drivers out there who have pulled far more accident-free miles than most of the Metro drivers will ever come close to. These are drivers who have to be gone from home for days and weeks at a time, and who still don't earn nearly the pay/benefits package that the bus drivers earn. Many of these extremely-skilled long-haul truck drivers would be DELIGHTED to have 6 weeks off a year, (even if it wasn't a month or 2 weeks at a time, which the Metro bus drivers consider to be an issue worth disrupting the county over). Heck, long-haul truck drivers are often tickled pink to have two DAYS off in a row, let alone two weeks, or one month. And that's only one of many qualified pools of applicants.

UTU Local 23 memebers, you are running the grave risk of killing the golden goose. I would bet the ranch that many UTU Local 23 memebers are privately worried--even ashamed and embarrassed--about this impending strike, but are afraid to speak up for fear of angering their peers.

To those UTU Local 23 members who think your union has gone off the deep end: If you think it is too risky to speak up, then write an anonymous note to your leaders. Tell them that holding large numbers of people economic hostage in order to gain small improvements in your already very generous vacation package is very risky to your best interests, as it may badly erode sympathies the public has for your union.

Victory to the Bus Driver’s Union!

"ozziebozoexlposion" sounds a lot like the self proclaimed, but nowhere else recognized, riders union "leader" R. Paul Marcelin-Sampson.

A true riders union would unite with the workers and fight for better funding and for better services. As a bus rider I am offended to have someone like Sampson pretend to be speaking for me.

The workers are fighting against cuts to their health care benefits. This is a worthy struggle that all working people should support. We are always stronger by sticking together against the government and corporations in labor disputes rather than fighting over the crumbs that fall from the table of exploitation where rich people feast.

Against the spending of money on war, police, decadence, and prisons we demand the social services and worker's benefits that should be basic rights in any civilized society!

For the preservation of healthcare benefits for all workers without cuts!

For the lowering of bus fares and an increase in services!

Victory to the Bus Driver’s Union!

Sincerely, Steven Argue for Liberation News

Re: Victory to the Bus Driver’s Union!

Mr Argue, you are so far removed from reality, it's laughable. First off, Mr Marcelin-Sampson posts under his own name. All previous threads on this topic show that.

Please explain to the world your grand plan to reduce fares, increase service, and lavish more benefits on the drivers. What part of "METRO is having to spend reserve funds to maintain current service levels" do you not understand? Until our society decides to make public transportation a priority and give it a dedicated, stable, nationwide funding source, you're living in fantasyland.

Stop making this an antagonistic us-against-the-government affair. METRO management care deeply about both the passengers and the drivers, but have their hands tied by faltering county sales tax revenues and skyrocketing operating costs. They'd make things perfect for everyone if they could.

But apparently YOU have all the answers. So, please, go fix METRO's problems.

For A General Strike Against War And Austerity!

The reality is that the U.S. government is cutting social services and healthcare rights and other benefits for workers everywhere while spending billions of dollars on war. It is the duty of unions to fight back. If we don’t we will loose everything.

The anonymous poster thinks that this is a problem limited to the Metro’s budget as is it stands under the control of some local useless functionaries that have never been friendly to workers or riders. You’d do better not to believe in the way the capitalists have divided the system up into little cantons in order to deny working people the social services and rights we deserve. It is a classic game of good cop bad cop. I don't buy it, and you shouldn't either.

The Democrats and Republicans and their capitalist masters could easily pay for the people's demands if they stop spending all of our money on war, police, bourgeois decadence, and prisons.

For general strike of all workers to demand:

U.S. Out Of Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, and the Phillipines!

For the preservation of healthcare benefits for all workers without cuts! Extend current benefits to all people through single payer health care!

For the lowering of bus fares and an increase in services!

Victory to the Bus Driver’s Union!

Re: For A General Strike Against War And Austerity!

Wow, Mr Argue, you're beginning to sound like an A.N.S.W.E.R. leaflet. Anti-imperialist slogans won't do jack to solve METRO's problems. I suggest you read this op-ed in last Sunday's Sentinel (pardon the link to corporate media). Ending profiteering in the insurance industry would go a long way in this issue.

The fact is, transit districts all across the country are facing the exact same problems of increased operating costs, stemming mainly from increased energy and insurance costs. Both of those need to be addressed on a macro level, which is precisely why chanting, "Victory to the Bus Driver’s Union!" like a rabid groupie will not solve much. There's nothing METRO can do about the larger root causes. The give-and-take management in which management has been able to engage has been reasonable.

But you refuse to let go of your dichotomized benevolent union versus evil employer worldview. Sometimes that indeed is the case. As a UCSC student, I adamantly supported this past year's labor actions and joined AFSCME and student solidarity on the front lines. The UC Regents were clearly in the wrong, hoarding billions in cash reserves, engaging in questionable spending priorities, and deliberately attempting to divide-and-conquer unions and students alike.

That is completely not the case with METRO, whose management listens intently to passenger and worker input and very much takes it to heart. UTU agreed three years ago to a raise, paid for by an increase in health care premiums today. Now they refuse to accept. Who is in the wrong here?


Re: For A General Strike Against War And Austerity!

There is nothing rabid about standing with fellow workers in support of their basic right to medical care.

Once again the anonymous poster is incapable of seeing the bigger picture. Without it there are no solutions, only a divide and conquer trap. Only through the united action of the working class can we begin to take back what the government and capitalists are taking from us all. Riders and drivers have common interests against a common enemy. We don’t want money taken away from each other, we want it taken away from other government projects like war, police, and prisons.

Re: Rockin' the Boat: Santa Cruz Bus Drivers Threaten Strike

*sigh* No point in talking to a wall.

In any case, the strike was averted and service will remain at normal levels at least through June 30, 2006. This is wonderful news for the economically disadvantaged, elderly, and disabled citizens of our county, who would've been absolutely devastated by a strike.

Of course, you seemed to be in for a fight. Sorry your fantasies of proletariat revolution on the backs of the poor and the vulnerable have been snubbed.

I'll let you have the last word, Mr Argue.

Re: Rockin' the Boat: Santa Cruz Bus Drivers Threaten Strike

1. It is not I, or the union, that forced a fight here.

2. Obviously it is I who is standing up for the disadvantaged by refusing the divide and conquer tactics of our rulers.

Re: Rockin' the Boat: Santa Cruz Bus Drivers Threaten Strike

Steven Argue, please address the cleanly and directly the point raised earlier in the thread, to wit:

"UTU agreed three years ago to a raise, paid for by an increase in health care premiums today. Now they refuse to accept. Who is in the wrong here?"

Re: Rockin' the Boat: Santa Cruz Bus Drivers Threaten Strike

As a Metro bus driver myself, here in Seattle Washington, and also a transit union activist, I thank you for your defense of bus drivers and riders. It is disturbing to see a person use the mantle of a bus riders union to undermine the bus drivers demands. I've followed other bus rider unions in other cities and they do typically support drivers because they understand we are all in this together. I'd add redirect the Pentagon's budget to expanded mass transit - and yes, affordable or free. And tax the profits of the wealthy corporations to also expand public mass transit. What with global warming it is clear that we need a dramatic shift away from our single-occupancy-vehicle focused system. Moreover, as we saw in New Orleans, many people, especially the poor, don't have cars. And why should those who can't afford cars be condemned to riding a second-class system.

Thanks again for your words of support for the bus drivers.

In solidarity
Linda Averill

mutual aid - grassroots solution

I can believe that skyrocketing insurance rates are bankrupting many transit districts....

So it seems the logical thing to do is self-insure, preferably with other local transit districts throughout the state or nation. People are doing this across all kinds of genres. Why not with our bus system?

Hell.... it might just work. Why not ask Paul Marcelin-Sampson and Steve Argue to work on a project like this together? I think their competitive synergy combined with their polarized (yet sometimes brilliant) thought might be able to mine a wide range of possibilities.

It seems like it's worth a try!


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