Get on the Bus
Editor's note: Ever tried to apply for a job while you're out on strike? Good luck. After nine years working in a union clerical job for Metro Transit, Cecile Cloutier foundherself looking for a job again this month. "Got passed over for the temp jobs," she wrote last Thursday on her daily City Pages blog called Strike!
(babelogue.citypages.com:8080/ strikeblog). "Even after writing down my social security number seven times and promising to pee in a bottle twice, I'd be returning to my full-time job eventually. Talk about being in limbo! Back to the drawing board, or rather, the clipboard with the job application on it."
Meanwhile, the comment section on Strike has brought the Taxpayer League types out from their caves--and prompted a response from bus riders that's a little more, well, let's say, forthright than what's been passing for debate elsewhere. "In your view it does just come down to money, doesn't it?" one transit supporter shot back. "Your money. And fuck everyone else. Fuck people who can't afford cars, fuck people who can't afford health care, fuck people who are homeless--a little extra spending money for yourself is more important, isn't it?"
Excerpted below is one of Cecile's recent posts from the picket lines. Take a ride over to Strike! for the latest updates on what's turning out to be a long, bumpy ride.
Strike Central: the Blog
I kept saying to all who would listen that this strike would be either three days or two months. Those three days are long since past. Now I agree with the chant at our first rally last Thursday: "How long? As long as it takes!" But how much is it going to take out of us?
So far, people seem to be rationing their emotions for a long and rough haul. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and you have to pace yourself accordingly. I ran across a part-timer on the line who wound up with $60 from his final, pre-strike paycheck after the two biweekly insurance payments were taken out--he was shelling out $500 for family coverage. But there wasn't anger there, just quiet resignation.
A friend picked up on that same dynamic after her very first shift on the line:
One guy we talked with keeps showing up for picket duty, more than he has to. He thinks that if he works more he can learn more about what's going on, like this is the pulse of the action or something. It's going to be a long one. People just accept it's going to be longer than '95, and it's more matter of fact. It's not so much "Feel sorry for us," it's more "This is something that has to be done."
Like the compulsive picketer, I'm looking for ways to connect to what's going on. Tuesday, I head down to Strike Central (a meeting room in the Labor Center on Central Avenue) with Marie, a City Pages photographer. I promise her some action shots. But when we get there, there isn't a whole lot of action, except for ringing phones. All the officers are in a meeting, and there's no one hanging out.
I talk to Gary and Michelle, who are staffing the strike hotline. Michelle worries about Marie taking her picture, but she doesn't have to. As one of the most excited and radiant expectant moms I've seen, she beams whenever she talks about her baby--due any minute now. (She's gotten a dispensation to stay off the picket line for a couple of weeks--time enough for the bambino to show up.) She started six years ago as full-time driver, but now works full-time at Honeywell. She still keeps her toe in at Transit as a part-timer, as does her significant other, a full-time driver. She's okay for the rest of the month but if it goes longer she'll have to work some quick benefits magic. She can juggle the baby and her significant other on her full-time insurance, but what about his kids?
Gary, a self-described "lifer," has been at Transit for 25 years. "Enough to retire twice, according to the governor," he winks. As a Transit Information Center representative who gives out route info over the phone, he's doing his version of a busman's holiday. Our conversation is interrupted every 90 seconds or so by Amalgamated Transit Union members wanting to get on the line. He was around in '95, and says it's apples and oranges. "You can't compare them. It seems like this year is going to be the stronger fight--there's not a lot of talking going on. But there's a lot of grandstanding." He's set aside enough for six weeks--but then it's going to get tight.
I ask another driver what he's doing during his time off. "Laying floors!" he answers. "I've spent 34 years laying floors, and 29 driving bus."
"So, you're part-time?"
"Full-time! When do you sleep?"
"Whenever I can."
An International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers member on a break from a meeting down the hall pokes his head into the room, and ribs a couple of mechanics: "Wish we got the press you guys did."
One of our guys fires back: "You guys just walk out on a building. We're walking out on 200,000 people."
The room quiets down for a moment, and the IBEW man shakes his head and says, "Nothing good can come out of a strike if they're long. If they settle with you, you sure know it won't be retro."
Seconds later, an elderly gentleman walks in. He looks gingerly around the room. "I was out for almost two years during the Austin Hormel strike. I was mayor of Austin at the time. I'm retired and I just got off volunteering on the picket line. What else can I do?"
Good question. He gets rustled off to the business office without a moment to lose.
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