So far, Minnesotans seem to have adapted well to the bus strike. Sadly, this has led to gun-jumpers, such as Minnesota Taxpayers League President David Strom, to basically call for the end of subsidized mass transit. Strom is sadly misled – such a position is shortsighted and suburban-centric. Minnesotans’ current calm will not last long. The Metropolitan Council and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 must meet and compromise.
The strike cannot continue for long. Some populations will be hit particularly hard: Many minority communities depend overwhelmingly on mass transit to get to work. Inner-city schools such as the Minnesota Business Academy depend on mass transit. The academy is shelling out $12,000 per month to pay private bus companies. Businesses along bus routes have noticed a drop in business. Plasma donation centers such as Aventis Bio-Services on University Avenue Southeast and Huron Boulevard have noticed a marked decrease in daily donations.
Both sides must make concessions and reach a compromise. The major sticking point between the council and the union is health care. The council wants to eliminate health-care benefits for retired workers. Given that health-care costs have skyrocketed over the last few years, this might seem like an obvious solution.
But bus drivers have already sacrificed in previous contract talks just to save those benefits; they gave up pay raises, cost-of-living increases and allowed changes in workplace policy. For the council to permanently take away those benefits is obviously bait-and-switch.
Retiree health-care benefits for those currently retired must continue and be discontinued for those not yet retired. For the union to accept this offer, the council must be willing to reduce the proposed cost increase for monthly family health-care premiums. Last year, the family health-care premium for transit workers was $143 per month. The council wants to raise that to $401 per month. This is unacceptable.
The trade-off might not be as simple as lowering monthly health-care costs and sacrificing retiree health care for those who do not already have it. But it’s a good place to start.