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March 16, 2004
Pawlenty Helps Poor, Unions and NGOs Thwart Attempt

Love him or hate him, you have to tip your hat to the political skills and nerve of Minnesota's first-term Governor, Tim Pawlenty. During the first ten days of the bus strike, all of the media coverage has focused on the poor, the homeless, and the handicapped who have been left in the cold -- literally, with pictures -- by the lack of bus service. Yesterday, Pawlenty turned the tables on the unions by offering to use the $200K per day that the Transit District is saving during the strike to fund non-profit groups that offer ride services in assisting these poor unfortunates -- and the unions and Council of Nonprofits have had to take the position of opposing relief for them:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's plan to provide rides for poor people stranded by the bus strike turned into a political hot potato that some social service agencies found too hot to handle Monday.

Even before the Metropolitan Council posted information offering up to $100,000 a week in transit grants on its Web site, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits advised its 1,400 member agencies not to participate.

The new program is being roundly criticized by labor leaders representing striking bus drivers as an attempt to "bust the union," and it could pose insurance and contract problems and pull the charities into the middle of the politically charged strike, said Jon Pratt, executive director of the social service umbrella group.

Suddenly, the strike is no longer about leaving old men with canes stranded on snow-covered streets, as the Strib painted it ten days ago. Now it's all about union power -- which finally puts us back to reality. Demonstrating that power, the union's president, Ron Lloyd, ran to uberpolitical state Attorney General Mike Hatch, who has waged war against Pawlenty ever since he was elected, to get Hatch to "look into the legality of diverting money from regular transit operations to the ride program." Hatch's spokesman replied that Hatch is "looking forward" to attempting to paint anything Pawlenty does as illegal -- even though all Pawlenty has done so far is to make a proposal to help the poor and disabled!

To confirm the new political terrain of the strike, the Strib's hack columnist Doug Grow weighs in with a screed against the other unions for failing to provide more support in the form of illegal wildcat strikes that would, presumably, cut off even more services to the poor and disadvantaged:

Once upon a time, unions stood together. In 1995, the Teamsters played an important role in ending a transit strike when they threatened illegal, wildcat strikes if Gov. Arne Carlson went through with his plans for an alternate transit plan.

What did the Teamsters of 2004 have to say about Pawlenty's plan for an alternate transit system?

One Teamsters leader managed to choke out this comment to Star Tribune reporter Laurie Blake in response to the governor's tactic: "We stand ready to help in any way we can to assist the governor and the Amalgamated Transit workers."

Guess that's the 21st-century version of "Solidarity Forever."

I have no real dog in this fight. I can see the need for metro transit service, especially for those who cannot drive, and to avoid the New York-style gridlock that will eventually encompass the downtown areas if taxis replace buses in that area. However, I also don't believe in sacred cows for government services; if public money is being spent, then a review of its necessity and its cost-to-benefit ratio should and must be undertaken on a regular basis. If its costs outweigh its benefits -- and union-inspired wage and benefit inflation certainly factors into that -- it's time to come up with another plan.

So far, Pawlenty has demonstrated the vision and the political skills to see beyond the impasse, and also has managed to outwit the unions at their own public-relations games. It may be time for the unions to realize that they're no longer dealing with Arne Carlson or a doofus ex-wrestler and to start negotiating on a realistic basis on health-care costs instead of posturing as defenders of the poor.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 16, 2004 6:33 AM

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