Pawlenty’s anti-mass transit ploy

Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell is doing his best to further Pawlenty’s dubious agenda.

It is no secret Gov. Tim Pawlenty is against mass transit. He tried tooth and nail to underfund light rail. His budget cuts that led to eliminated bus routes raised bus fares. Plans to expand bus routes have been halted; Pawlenty would rather see that money go toward an endless expansion of highway lanes. Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell is doing his best to further Pawlenty’s dubious agenda. Bell’s contract offer to Twin Cities transit workers was so unacceptable that 94 percent of the 2,150-member Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 voted against it. Pawlenty and Bell want a strike, and with their offer they forced the transit workers to authorize one.

Indeed, the contract offer is in no way fair. It forces workers to accept sharp increases in out-of-pocket health care, an elimination of retiree health benefits and raises that are not even close to the rate of inflation. The bus drivers have every right to be angry, but they must realize the ulterior motives behind the offer. Pawlenty and Bell are looking for any excuse to eliminate mass transit. It would be to the governor’s glee if a strike packed the highways with cars and thus called for more lanes. A strike would reduce ridership; and if a settlement were reached after a strike, it would no doubt be used as an excuse to force the transit worker layoffs and further bus route cuts.

The transit workers have already sacrificed wage and cost of living increases and have allowed changes in work rules to secure health benefits. They should not be forced to give up the health benefits they sacrificed. But the larger issue is the well-being of mass transit. Pawlenty and Bell have set a trap, and as distasteful as it is, the bus drivers must have the courage to avoid a strike.

Bell’s dirty tactics already started when he tried to blame the delayed light rail debut on a potential strike. Pawlenty and Bell should not resort to cheap publicity stunts, and it is more shameful that they would intentionally force a strike to further damage badly needed mass transit.