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Day 1 of bus strike: Union defiant, traffic runs smoothly
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Striking MetroTransit employees rallied outside Met Council headquarters Thursday afternoon. (MPR Photo/Art Hughes)
Thursday morning was the first test of how the Metro Transit bus drivers' strike would affect metro area commuters. Fears that the strike would lead to gridlock on streets and highways didn't materialize, even as some 75,000 bus riders were forced to find alternatives. Hundreds of Twin Cities bus drivers and supporters rallied at Metro Transit headquarters in Minneapolis Thursday. There is no resolution in sight to bring the 2,200 union members off the picket line.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Cars, cabs and trucks moved freely through the streets in downtown Minneapolis Thursday morning. The only indication of the transit driver strike was the absence of the buses lumbering through the city streets. For at least the first day, it appears most commuters found other ways to get to work. Some, like Muhammad Bilal, bundled up and hopped on their bicycles.

"Oh, it's cold," Bilal said. "I'm not used to biking in this weather. It's a problem, but it's OK."

Bilal is a few blocks from his destination. He says the ride has taken him about a half an hour from his home in South Minneapolis.

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Image Mike Hadel

Not all displaced bus riders chose to take two wheels into work. Many Minneapolis employers helped their employees get to work via car pool.

"All employees that I'm aware of found rides and made it into the office," says Gary Erickson, deputy administrator for Hennepin County. He says the county employs about 8,000 people in downtown Minneapolis. Erickson says about one-quarter of those employees regularly ride the bus to work.

"We have a ride-sharing program that we supplemented on the county Internet site, which seems to have gotten a lot of use late yesterday. And it appears that things worked out fairly well this morning," Erickson says.

Things also seemed to work out fairly well on metro area freeways. A MnDOT spokesman says there were a few crashes Thursday, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Thursday afternoon, striking Metro Transit workers and supporters rallied outside the Met Council offices.

Terrance T. Williams has been a bus driver for five years. He says this strike is regrettable, but necessary.

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Image Late-night talks

"If we have to take 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, whatever, you know it's better for us to take this short-term than take this long-term, and be affected for the next 20 years ... We'd rather take a short term loss than a long term loss any day," Williams says.

Mike Hadel is a union route analysis specialist for Metro Transit. He said the Met Council's offer is too hard to swallow after he's had to absorb larger and larger health insurance costs.

"Last year it cost me 5 and 1/2 percent of my take-home pay. This year it's 9 and 1/2 percent. Next year it'll be 12 and 1/2 percent, and under the projected 2006 estimate it'll be at least 21 percent of my take home pay," Hadel says.

The rally included pep talks from union leaders and elected supporters. Ron Lloyd is president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, which represents the 2,200 workers on strike. He says government leaders are testing the union's strength.

"They are trying to bust this union. The governor is trying to bust this union. We have to stand up and fight. We have to let him know we're not afraid of him. We're not afraid of the Met Council. And we're not going to take their crap," Lloyd says.

Officials with the Metropolitan Council, which oversees MetroTransit, says they are not giving up on talks to end the strike. Chairman Peter Bell says the agency is searching for a new approach to get the buses rolling.

"We had our last, best and final offer on the table, and now we're in a strike," Bell says. "All bets are off, and we're going back to the drawing board in terms of what we think we'll be proposing."

Bell says he is not considering hiring replacement drivers or hiring an outside bus service to take on the bus routes abandoned during the strike.

Other suburban bus providers and private contractors offering service during the strike include Maple Grove Transit, Metro Mobility, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority and Southwest Metro Transit.

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