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Beginning March 1st, Twin Cities Metro Transit bus driver, Jim Jeffries, provides a daily journal of commentary concerning the bus driver strike and need for community support. Also includes an easy way to message elected representatives.

Monday, April 19, 2004

An email to me and my reply -

Annie wrote:

I would like to see this continue for awhile with comments about what you are getting for feedback from passengers and fellow workers. Plus it could become a forum to discuss and help others to learn about what dynamics cause our problems in labor as we go along., if you were willing.

Annie in Minnesota
Metro Transit

Dear Annie,

Thank you for your message.

I agree with you about the value of the opinions of both passengers and workers. I see such data valuable for both the optimal operation of our transit infrastructure in MN and for the operation of organized labor here, as well.

I think that Metro Transit already uses rider and public opinion market research to hone their services for the public. I would suggest that it also begin to use market research to help in its relationship with its workers. On MPR today, Peter Bell indicated a desire to find ways to improve Metro Transit's relationship with its former strikers. I would be willing to assist with that effort as I have had experience in that area from the private sector.

The bus driver labor union does have a system by which it tries to gauge the opinions of its members, however, that system, I think, usually only engages the members who voluntarily attend monthly union meetings and these really do not statistically represent the thinking of all members, just the active ones. The union could probably benefit from doing itself, what I have above suggested for Metro Transit, the utilization of market research tools upon its population of members.

Finally, I inferred that you may have an interest in knowing better how the interests of "laborers" does, or maybe could better, fit into the fabric of our Twin Cities community, or society. This is a very big, very complex sociological question. I think it deals with community cohesiveness which according to many,has declined over the past 25 years in America. The best writing I've read on this subject is the out of print book Bowling Alone, by Robert Putnam of The Kennedy School at Harvard.

I think that my blog, a one directional publishing vehicle, is not the right tool for any of the above three areas, so I must decline your suggestion to continue it. You certainly have indicated, however, the need to gather some very important information. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to think about this.

Best regards,
Jim Jeffries (my pen name, of course)

Jim Jeffries

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Well, it's all over. Most of the union members I've talked to don't like what they achieved, but they simply could not afford to continue.

We were up against some major obstacles.

(1) Metro Transit, as all major metropolitan mass transit systems, is government subsidized and that makes it almost impossible for a labor strike to have any financial impact on the agency itself. In fact, the agency actually saved about $7 million.
(2) The cost of healthcare in America is out of control and eating up the country's resources at an alarming rate both publicly and privately. Hillary Clinton attempted to address this back in 1993 but the country wasn't ready and she failed. I wonder if the pain is yet sufficient for the hard choices to now be made by us Americans.
(3) The state Republicans have a bias against mass transit and continue to cut its funding and the strike couldn't change that.

This is my last entry. I'll be pulling out my bus at 6:01 Monday morning and trying to get back to normalcy. I want to thank all of the substantial numbers of readers who followed this journal and especially those who repeatedly took the time to drop a line to their elected representatives using the email links or phone numbers.

I'm reminded of an old Greyhound slogan which I'll now sign off with. "Take the bus and leave the driving to us."

Jim Jeffries
Metro Transit Driver

Jim Jeffries

Thursday, April 15, 2004

I am pleased to share an email to me:

Jim,
I was just visiting your blog spot and have to get in a comment.
I am the wife of a mechanic at MTC and I may as well be a member for
the local 1005 the way I think of the strike. Please let the union
members know that they need to read the contract before voting it in, and
consider everything in it, this goes for every contract. Union members
can not just settle for less, that would be so wrong. You have been out
for 41 days and yes it is very hard but don't let them step all over
you, stand up for yourself and others , UNITED. Where there is a will
there is a way, get what you deserve...after all that is why you have been
walking the picket line for the last 41 days anyway.
Thank you.

I've read before about this union worker's wife's attitude in books. Often, in history, it is the wives who are most willing to sacrifice to maintain their living standard and they who push their husbands back to the picket line.

Of course I admire this woman's tenacity. She seems to be somehow from the mold of Susan B. Anthony and others maybe.

I guess, the message is to "think long and hard and into the future" before you vote. Think about the status of your family in Minneapolis/StPaul society. I would add, "think about the pain in the community and if you can inflict any more." "This is about war." "This is about hurting the other side more than they can endure."

Simply, like most disputes in law, this is about who can endure the most pain, the longest." Another way, "are you a man or mouse?"

Jim Jeffries

Please send a one or two sentence message and a daily phone call to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.
We need to get 10s of thousands of messages to our elected leaders!

Jim Jeffries

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I am a little worried about driving a bus again after 41 days off. It's not so easy and now I'm rusty. I'm supposed to move a vehicle the size of a small building, through downtown crowds, see passengers at each bus stop, manage the fares and do extra defensive driving the whole time. Seems like a lot to handle as it did when I started.

My more experienced friends on the picket line tell me that I'll go through 15 minutes of fear and then be back to where I was when the strike commenced. I like their confidence. I wish I had their many years of experience to fall back on.

Please send a one or two sentence message and a daily phone call to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.
We need to get 10s of thousands of messages to our elected leaders!

The Joe Hill Dispatch Laborwire

Jim Jeffries
Finally a breakthrough. I have an agreement to consider. Hallelujah.

I am hoping that I don't have to decrease my standard of living. I hope that we were able to prevent the income bar from falling for not only us transit union members, but also for the members of other unions and for our's and other managements who since the 30's have always benefited indirectly from the sacrifices of unions.

This morning I did picket duty at the Uptown Transit Station with three others. After our union president Ron Lloyd's announcement at the Capitol that a tentative agreement had occurred, the cars on Hennepin Ave. began honking for us in earnest. Wow. It was great to hear the support and see so many thumbs up.

Through next Friday, this strike will have cost me $4,015 personally. I hope that this sacrifice by me and 2200 others not only helps me to keep my standard of living, but further helps other vulnerable state employees, subject to the governor and the extremist right wing Minnesota Taxpayers League which has gained control over the otherwise rational Republican party, do the same.

Sorry to include the politics. Unfortunately, the strike was all about politics. It wouldn't have occurred under other recent governors.

Please, please believe that your vote counts. Be sure to vote in all future elections. Take a lesson from this transit strike. Your vote matters.

Hoping to sign-off shortly,
Jim Jeffries


Please send a one or two sentence message and a daily phone call to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.
We need to get 10s of thousands of messages to our elected leaders!

The Joe Hill Dispatch Laborwire

Jim Jeffries

Saturday, April 10, 2004

I am ready to become less vitriolic.

My daughter Anne, a graduating biological scientist at the U, aspiring to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has a roommate severely struggling by the strike from not being able to get to classes or groceries. Additionally, I personally know of too many severely struggling riders and too many severely struggling drivers/mechanics.

I'm ready to settle.

I, one driver, am willing to decrease my standard of living despite the gains of those above me on the state organizational chart. I am willing to be the "fall guy."

Are the governor and his constituents willing to move money from the highway fund to the mass transit fund to help limit my standard of living losses to a manageable 1%? Do your hear me, Governor? I'm crying "Uncle."

Further, I have a son, Ryan, in law enforcement, also under the purview of the government. Are the promises to him, of full healthcare after 20 years of putting his life at risk, also now vulnerable with this Pawlenty Administration?

I need to be able to advise my extremely capable children, way more skilled than I, whether or not they should continue to aspire to public service or move to private sector work.

Please send a one or two sentence message and a daily phone call to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.
We need to get 10s of thousands of messages to our elected leaders!

The Joe Hill Dispatch Laborwire

Jim Jeffries

Friday, April 09, 2004

The following is a reprint of a state senator's reply to one of our drivers early this past week:

Dear Llya,

I agree with you, and share your frustration with the lack of negotiating being done to come to a satisfactory decision. Recently, I personally urged Peter Bell of the Metropolitan Council to get back to the table and get this settled. Unfortunately, my pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

The Senate added a provision to the transportation section of our omnibus bill that would require this matter to go to binding arbitration. I was disappointed to see that the Republicans in the House rejected any attempt to do anything to help settle the strike in their bill.

My DFL colleagues and I will continue to work toward finding a way to get the Governor to settle this strike. We need to get Minnesota workers back to work and get the buses running again for those who depend on transit back on the bus.

Sincerely,
Jim Metzen
State Senator

Please send a one or two sentence message and a daily phone call to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.
We need to get 10s of thousands of messages to our elected leaders!

The Joe Hill Dispatch Laborwire

Jim Jeffries

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Have gotten mail about how the state previously privatized Metro Mobility and how that service has since badly deteriorated. From another source I am informed that Metro Mobility now mostly uses newly arrived immigrant drivers who have trouble communicating in English and adhering to driving regulations. Personally, I used to get blocked by one of these folks at Southdale. He would repeatedly lay over at the bus stop instead of back at the lay over area, causing me to become late on the remainder of my route.

Have gotten other mail about recalling my boss, Governor Pawlenty, for bad management. Unfortunately, our union doesn't have much money due to low dues and only 2200 members and could never finance the enormous publicity needed to accomplish a recall if it's even constitutionally possible in Minnesota. We would need a wealthy benefactor. I do think, however, that with a long enough bus strike and a few more cuts to nursing homes and other social safety nets, it may be possible.

Tim Pawlenty is a very smart guy and could be a good leader. Unfortunately he signed an agreement with an extremist right wing group, the Minnesota Taxpayers League and has since become their puppet. Why, I guess to get some extra votes. Remember Richard Nixon, another remarkably brilliant guy, who did some unbelievably foolish things which ultimately cost him the presidency.

Please send a one or two sentence message and a daily phone call to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.
We need to get 10s of thousands of messages to our elected leaders!

The Joe Hill Dispatch Laborwire

Jim Jeffries
Been watching a debate on public access cable about the mass transit Northstar corridor train to run from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities and back. The "against" debaters were David Strom of the very powerful extremist Taxpayers League of MN which has managed to commit some Republican officials to a "no tax" increase covenant including the promise to not close corporate tax loopholes and which is all about spending fewer tax dollars no matter the result and Representative Phil Krinke and the "for" debaters Representative Kathy Tiglestedt and Anoka County Commissioner Dan Erhardt. This was essentially a debate about the value of mass transit.

What a joke. I know a lot about the professional skill of financial analysis. I used to do it for Carl Pohlad, and I can honestly say that this kind of verbal banter is totally useless.

In place of the political verbiage, voters need the conclusions of independent analysts. At the federal level there exists the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). We need that kind of office here in MN.

If you wanted to know the answer to the basic question "what is the most efficient way to move a worker from home to work and back," you would ask the state equivalent of the CBO. You would never, ever ask political campaign contribution bribed polititians, despite that they would have the final say.

Please send a one or two sentence message and a daily phone call to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.
We need to get 10s of thousands of messages to our elected leaders!

The Joe Hill Dispatch Laborwire

Jim Jeffries

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Today in the StarTribune, Laurie Blake reported -

"Meanwhile at the Capitol, in debate about the omnibus transportation funding bill, House Republicans voted in favor of an amendment that would turn the transit system over to private business.

The bill is scheduled to be voted on Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, criticized the amendment, saying it would take the state in a direction that has not been contemplated without holding public hearings."

Here come the governor and the Minnesota Taxpayers league again. Be certain that privatization is about making money for someone, someone who has probably been spending money giving out campaign contribution bribes. The state would sell this enormous, first class asset, the transit system, to someone like Irwin Jacobs or the Pohlad family who owned it before. They would hire lower quality drivers, mechanics, customer service people, route analysts, managers, etc., quit buying new buses and other equipment, sell off some of the good equipment and gradually let the whole system deteriorate while they made a good profit. This is what corporate raiders like Chainsaw Al do. Yes, just like the subplot in the movie Pretty Woman. Finally, like what happened in 1970, the public and businesses, tired of poor transportation infrastructure and its anti-competitive impact on the state, would scream to have the state again buy the system and spend a mountain of money on it to bring it back up to the high quality which exists today. The former private owners would be laughing all the way to the bank. We've been down this path before. See my blog of March 12th.

Please send a one or two sentence message and a daily phone call to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.
We need to get 10s of thousands of messages to our elected leaders!

The Joe Hill Dispatch Laborwire

Jim Jeffries

Monday, April 05, 2004

I have been asked about the fact that I only included the new costs of replicating our current health plan in my prior analysis, while ignoring other lower premium options which the governor has provided.

I did this to keep the analysis simple and to compare apples to apples.

The other options represent the basic trade offs most of us have seen. The one with the least premium cost to drivers was Option D which got down to a very, very low $63.23/month. Option D provides a $1,000,000 family lifetime maximum coverage, a $2,000 per year out of pocket maximum not including prescription drugs which use a 20% copay/per drug/30 day supply. I expect the premium could be dropped to $0 for a $500,000 lifetime max, $5,000 non-drug max per year out of pocket and a 50% drug copay.

The option you choose, of course, depends upon how sick/healthy you plan to be. The younger you are and the fewer years you have been doing high stress, spine and leg wearing bus driving, the more likely you'll be willing to gamble with a lower premium plan. Here lies the problem for us drivers. Metro Transit drivers are very loyal. This has improved the quality of the service, but provides for a high average driver age and drivers with alot of bus miles on their bodies. See March 2nd when I described the results of independent bus driver health studies. Option D could easily cost a two adult family with two kids $750 in premiums per year, $2,000 in out of pocket expenses and $1,500 in drug copays for a total expense of $4250.

Please send a one or two sentence message and a daily phone call to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.
We need to get 10s of thousands of messages to our elected leaders!

The Joe Hill Dispatch Laborwire

Jim Jeffries

Sunday, April 04, 2004

This weekend I received an email from an apparently very informed and intellectually interested citizen. Here is a copy of my reply to him.

Dear Mr. Descarpentrie,

Thanks for your critique. You are obviously an
interested and informed citizen.

You make good points but let me try to give you the
perspective of many of the drivers with whom I have
spoken.

On the issue of retirement benefits, the drivers feel
that they had a long term contract which they have
been using for their retirement planning. They were
aiming at a fixed target. The governor now wants to
make it a moving target. I think the drivers would
agree to the elimination of retirement benefits for
all employees hired after the contract date, but don't
want the promises made regarding their own retirement
benefits to change because they have little time to
adjust to such changes.

Regarding wages and the rising employee contribution
to the healthcare premium, the drivers understand the
failure of our elected leaders to solve the problem of
out of control healthcare costs in the U.S. They
feel, however, that if they must suffer the pain of
losing a percentage of their standard of living to
adjust to this long standing and growing national
crisis, then so should everyone else, most especially
those above them on the state organizational chart.
Their perception, however is that almost no one above
them is suffering any pain, but rather quite the
opposite in sometimes dramatic fashion, although I
don't have good numbers about this. [see March 4th blog entry] We recognize that
we can choose lesser coverage options to reduce our
cost and even choose no coverage and join the 40
million uninsured for that matter, but again the
drivers feel that over prior contracts they gave
things up like work rules and automatic cost of living
adjustments to get the first class health plan they
have. It's my personal feeling, that had all of those
on the organizational chart above us already incurred
the same sacrifice those of us at the bottom are being
asked to make, us drivers would have readily joined
the cause. In fact, the state senators and
representatives were asked to moderately reduce the
portion of their living standard earned via their
state jobs, but flatly refused. Excellent leadership
would have started at the top and set examples on the
way down to the bottom, not the other way around which
is what's happening.

Sincerely,
Jim Jeffries


Please send a one or two sentence message and a daily phone call to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.
We need to get 10s of thousands of messages to our elected leaders!

The Joe Hill Dispatch Laborwire

Jim Jeffries

Friday, April 02, 2004

The specifics regarding pay and healthcare.

Currently a driver with dependents is contributing $265/month toward healthcare. The state wants to increase that to $304 in 2004, $401 in 2005 and an estimated $681 in 2006.

Here's how the drivers' standard of living will be affected:
2004 - Additional cost of healthcare $39 + cost of inflation $87 = $126/mo (3% decline in living standard)
2005 - Additional cost of healthcare $136 + cost of inflation $174 - 1% 2005 pay raise $38 = $272/mo (7% decline in living standard)
2006 - Additional cost of healthcare $416 + cost of inflation $261 - 1% 2005 pay raise $38 = $639/mo (17% decline in living standard)

In other words, we won't be able to make our rent or mortgage payments. The state's demand is very scary for us. That's why we had to strike. It's all about fear.

Please send one or two sentence messages to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.
We need to get 10s of thousands of messages to our elected leaders!

The Joe Hill Dispatch Laborwire

Jim Jeffries

Thursday, April 01, 2004

In Connecticut, No Solution in Sight for Jammed Highways
By PAUL von ZIELBAUER

Published: March 27, 2004; New York Times

The chaos created by a fuel-truck crash Thursday night in Bridgeport underscored how much must still be done - and how little, relatively speaking, has been accomplished - to relieve what experts say is an interstate highway system in crisis in southwestern Connecticut.

The problem facing elected officials, local residents and regional transportation planners is daunting: how do you reduce congestion on an aging highway in the heart of the state's most crowded, affluent and economically important region without crippling the residents, governments and companies that depend on it?

In a region where Interstate 95 already cuts through several crowded downtowns and connects to hundreds of suburban feeder roads, expanding major sections of the highway is virtually impossible, traffic experts say.

Though more lanes are being built in some sections, including the snaking bottleneck in Bridgeport where the truck accident occurred on Thursday, "it seems pretty implausible" to expand the entire interstate, said Robert Wilson, the executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency, a nonprofit group based in Stamford.

"There's not enough money for the system now," he said, "not to mention for an additional roadway that no one would want anyway."

Enlarging the busiest portion of Route I-95 in Connecticut, between Greenwich and New Haven, has been mentioned by state transportation officials, but the idea quickly - and appropriately - died, said Carmine Trotta, a manager for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

"The area is developed so much, and the cost would be so extensive, and the environmental impact would be so great that we essentially abandoned the idea," he said Friday.

Moreover, Mr. Trotta said, "the cost would be billions."

More recently, during a meeting of the state Transportation Strategy Board, a group of business leaders and state commissioners, someone suggested "seriously exploring double-decking I-95," Mr. Wilson said. That idea, too, was promptly discarded.

Thus, for a number of geographic, historical and lifestyle reasons, plowing into a daily crawl on Interstate 95 to and from work is the only real option for thousands of daily commuters who shun the region's under-funded and often inconvenient public transportation options.

"It's a geographic issue," said Mr. Wilson, of the South Western Regional Planning Agency, because the state Capitol is in Hartford, where too many lawmakers "don't recognize rail as an option, because in that part of the state there are no commuter railroads."

Many state officials acknowledge that the state's commuter train line - Connecticut owns the railroad tracks and some 350 train cars on the New Haven line of Metro-North - is prone to frustrating delays and breakdowns, and that the current level of service is no way to lure commuters off highways.

For many commuters, the only alternative to using Interstate 95 to get to and from work is the Merritt Parkway, which runs roughly parallel to Route I-95 from Greenwich to Stratford and is off limits to large trucks.

Expanding the Merritt's capacity, however, is also out of the question. In 1991, the roadway, built mostly in the 1920's and 1930's, was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Replacing even the road's wooden guard rails requires approval from federal preservationists.

"There is little support for widening that roadway," Mr. Trotta said, although, unlike Interstate 95, "there is enough property to do so."

Please send one or two sentence messages to:
Your governor and my boss - Tim Pawlenty
(651) 296-3391
Senator Steve Murphy, powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
(651) 296-4264
Your state senator and representative
(651) 296-2146

Pass along this blog address www.tcmetro.blogspot.com
The union cannot succeed without great citizen support.

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