For the past four days, Phoenix, Arizona has been the site of a tense stand-off. This time, it’s not about illegal immigration or SB 1070. There hasn’t been a scuffle with any drug cartels. It has nothing to do with a publicity stunt by a Sheriff who likes loves attention however he can get it. The battle that unfolded surrounds public transportation and the fight over “unfair labor practices”.
I rode the metro bus system for several months during the summer of 2010 when gas prices were well over $4 per gallon, and my youngest was in daycare. We couldn’t afford the gas for both of us to drive to work. Driving myself, I could get to work in 45-minutes. The bus ride took 1 ½ hours. This was especially cumbersome if one the kids got sick and needed to be picked up early.
It wasn’t all bad, though. This is how I wrote most of my first novel. Three hours a day with no one to bother me – except the inevitable drunken or smelly guy who’d sit next to me. I seemed to attract people with a creep factor of 7 or higher (on a scale of 1 to 10).
Ah yes, those were the days.
In the midst of the strike, the frustration is thicker than the frosting on a wedding cake.
The union representing drivers opposes “unfair labor practices”. For over two years, the union and the company have been unable to draft a contract acceptable to all parties. The last article I read (click here to read) stated the dispute wasn’t over money, but “bad faith bargaining.” If the numbers are correct that 97% of drivers make over $50,000 a year and the contract included: a 10% wage increase over 5 years, 5 weeks paid vacation and payment of 94% of the employees’ health insurance premiums, I’m not sure how much public sympathy they’ll get.
The riders are caught in the middle. The bus system runs around 100 routes. Half of those routes are at reduced or no service right now due to 900 drivers on strike. Many bus riders are blue collar (low-wage) and have no other mode of transportation. (Phoenix isn’t a walkable city. And if you want to live, I wouldn’t advise riding a bike on a major street…or anywhere within city limits, for that matter.)
Without a way to get to work, their jobs could be at risk.
News came Wednesday afternoon that the union and company may have reached a tentative agreement. The drivers vote on Thursday and if they approve it, bus service could be ‘rolling’ on a full schedule again on Friday.
Here’s hoping they can shake on it and get back to work – and leave the strikes to bowling.