Profile of Santa Cruz bus union head Bonnie Morr
- Published Sunday, January 1, 2006, in the Santa Cruz Sentinel
Bus driver led 35-day strike
By Genevieve Bookwalter
During the Metro bus drivers' 35-day strike, bus driver and union
chairwoman Bonnie Morr slept about three and a half hours a night.
If she had her 16-month-old grandson for the day, she brought him to
the picket line. Her few breaks between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. were to
duck home and feed Ebi, her family's 20-year-old dog, and Rosie, the
19-year old cat.
She considered herself responsible not for 141 bus drivers, but 141
Leading the walkoff "was probably one of the hardest things I ever had
to do," Morr said in a recent interview, reflecting back on the strike
that stranded about 23,000 daily Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit
District riders. "I didn't want to let them bus drivers down, and I
didn't want to hurt anyone."
The strike's effect on the county made union leader Bonnie Morr a 2005
Bus drivers belonging to United Transportation Union Local 23 walked
off the job Sept. 27, after the district's board rejected a tentative
contract agreement that would have kept buses rolling through next
summer. Drivers deemed it a slap in the face.
While on strike, drivers demanded cheaper medical premiums, higher
wages and lower employee contributions toward retirement pensions.
Metro board members cited a $1.4 million deficit and said there was
only so much they could give.
Looking back, Metro general manager Les White said he can see room for
"A higher degree of communication is definitely something we've got to
work on," he said.
At the time, the strike snarled traffic and turned UC Santa Cruz into
a parking lot. Workers who depended on Metro to get to their jobs
ended up bumming rides, riding bikes or walking for hours.
Although drivers realized the problems the strike caused the county,
almost all of them felt wronged and disrespected after the board
rejected the tentative contract agreement, Morr said.
"That was one of the things that was hard for the folks that had been
there for so long," she said. It made them feel the strike was worth
It also the sparked the group to gather on picket lines and stay off
the job for more than a month. Those with savings helped others in
need, and some contributed their $600 monthly union strike stipend to
a general fund. In 35 days, no one crossed the picket line.
"If there were a few people that said 'this is bull,' we would have
turned it around in a heartbeat," Morr said. Instead, many drivers
were prepared to stay out weeks longer.
Some of those drivers complimented Morr's stubbornness and dedication
as keys to getting through the strike. But looking back, others
wondered if a different approach might have worked better.
"Bonnie can be a bit of a pit bull at times and must always get her
three cents in on every issue, which can either make someone defensive
or give up trying to argue," said retired driver Timon Read, who
stepped down in December. "I really don't know if that approach is
effective or not. I suppose it depends on who you're dealing with.
But I am glad she stepped up to the plate."
Morr said she drew strength during the strike from other drivers,
native South Americans she volunteered with years ago in Brazil, and
her parents, who worked in New York factories and were also labor
Motivation also stemmed from about 15 or 20 drivers who endured the
famous Watsonville cannery strike in 1985, when more than 1,000
workers stayed out as long as 18 months over wages and health
benefits. They knew how to keep up a fight, Morr said.
In the end, bus drivers lost about $4,500 each, depending on salary
and overtime they usually worked.
Morr is up for re-election next year in her role as union chair, and
said she wants to run one more time.
"We have made giant strides," Morr said, but "we have a little more to
Contact Genevieve Bookwalter at gbookwalter@...