A flurry of strike support activities marked the fifth week of the strike of 2,200 Minneapolis and St. Paul bus drivers, mechanics, and clerical workers. The members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 walked off the job March 4 after refusing to accept a contract offered by the Twin Cities’ Metro Transit that would phase out health care coverage for retirees and increase premiums for active workers to nearly $5,000 per year for family coverage.

The transit workers and their supporters are directing their fire not only at the Metropolitan Council, which operates Metro Transit, but also at Minnesota’s Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. State funds for transit in the state were cut in the last three state budgets in response to state budget deficits. As a result, Metro Transit has cut service and raised fares for the 75,000 riders who ride the cities’ buses. However, noted Local 1005 President Ron Lloyd, Metro Transit did find money for management raises this year.

Local unions in Minnesota have contributed more than $84,000 to a solidarity fund for striking workers as of April 1, according to Jerry Ewald, financial secretary-treasurer of Local 1005.

Disabled riders, students, and health care workers have joined unionists in actions calling for a quick settlement of the strike. The Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council and other labor groups set April 7 as a one-day phone blitz. They pledged to generate calls to Gov. Pawlenty and tell him to “come to the table and settle this strike.” The governor should not “balance the state budget on the backs of transit workers” and should realize health care is a right and “transit is important to our communities,” their statement said. The phone number for Pawlenty’s office is (800) 657-3717.

The author can be reached at rwood@pww.org.