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Minneapolis, Minn. — The members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1005, have been without a full paycheck for more than a month. If they work the picket lines, they can collect $150 a week in strike pay. But that doesn't go very far. So when drivers go to union headquarters in Minneapolis to pick up their strike check, they also pick up some canned goods from the food shelf upstairs.
Jeff Charles, a bus driver for 10 years, stopped by Thursday morning.
"(It) keeps the shelves full, so I can have something to eat to save the money that's in the bank, so I can pay everything else -- the rent, truck payments, insurance -- and keep ahead there. This is helping," he says.
Charles says he misses his job and would rather be driving, but he's holding up.
"It hasn't been too bad. But now it's taken a little effect on it. It's getting a little harder, a little more reality coming in," says Charles.
The reality is setting in. More than 800 drivers stopped by the food shelf on Wednesday. At one point the line led about 20 yards down the hallway and into a stairwell.
Every week, striking drivers can pick up a $25 coupon for Cub Foods and one bag of groceries from the food shelf.
Joanne Blumgrend was visiting the food shelf for the first time. She'd only been a full-time driver for a few days before the strike. Now she's taken a part-time job driving a school bus to help make ends meet. She says she's also change her menu at home because of the strike.
"We've cut back, eating lots of beans and rice now. Not buying burgers. Not even steak. Anything people donate is great," says Blumgrend.
(It) keeps the shelves full, so I can have something to eat to save the money that's in the bank, so I can pay everything else -- the rent, truck payments, insurance.
The pickings were slim when Blumgrend arrived Thursday morning. The offerings at the food shelf vary as much as the amount of food at any given time. But in the afternoon, the shelves were flush again. A food drive by unionized clerical workers at the University of Minnesota brought in 100 bags of groceries, more than $1,100 in cash and a few Easter baskets.
Ryan Hanson helped organize the food drive at the U. Hanson, whose AFSCME local was on strike last fall for two weeks, says he remembers the support the transit union offered when he was on the picket line, and he sympathizes with their plight.
"The last time we went by and dropped off, he (a striking driver) started getting teary. I'm not good with emotions sometimes. I didn't know what to say, but I know where they're at, because you start to wonder if anyone gives a damn any more. When you find out people come down, bring food and still root you on, it touches your heart a little," says Hanson.
Several other area unions and some local businesses have taken up collections for the striking drivers as well.
But food isn't the only worry facing the drivers. Their health insurance ran out this week, and 289 drivers accepted extended coverage through the federal COBRA program, but they still have to pay for it. Some have health insurance through a spouse. And others are just hoping they don't get sick before the strike ends.
Medical benefits are one of the main sticking points between the Metropolitan Council and the union. The two sides have a bargaining session set for Monday.