The group of five Madison Metro drivers were walking around the outside of the state Capitol in Madison during the noon protest today, Thursday, Feb. 24. They were getting a group photo with their shared sign when I stopped to ask them about the mood at Madison Metro -- how would they describe it?
"Sad," comes the immediate answer. "Scared," another driver offers. "And there is anger." But when the five Metro drivers discuss that anger further, it is largely in terms of city residents losing their bus service. Yes, they are scared for their own jobs -- "I've been there twelve years and I'm not safe," one told me, and others have less time logged -- but they are focused on their riders and bus service in Madison overall.
"Who rides the bus?" one asks. "A lot of low income people. And they live where they shoved the lower cost housing, near the outside limits of town. So they won't be able to get in to their work."
Another mentions plans that had been in the offing to expand park-and-ride services to outlying communities like Sun Prairie and Waunakee: "That's all going to go." That's because if Walker's "budget repair bill" passes, Madison Metro stands to lose $ $45 million in federal funding, because federal law requires that systems that receive the funds have collective bargaining in place for wages, pensions and working conditions.
"I'll tell you, there are a lot of Republicans there at Metro who have changed their minds now," says one driver. All five drivers offer their thanks to what they call "The Fab 14," the 14 Democratic state Senators who left the Senate chambers in protest a week ago and fled across the state line to Illinois to stop a vote on the bill.
"Without them, there would not have been time to spread the word about the things that this bill will do, like the cuts in bus funding," says the driver who is more or less unofficially the spokesperson for the five. That goes for cuts in other programs like BadgerCare. And the news that is coming out about Gov. Walker's relationship with the billionaire Koch brothers.
As we're talking, other ralliers keep breaking in to thank the bus drivers. "Thanks for what you do. We love the bus," says one man.
As for what might happen if the bill passes, the drivers point out they can't strike under the terms of their contract, but they don't think it's a good idea regardless. "We need to stay out there," they agree. "We need to get the people down here to the rallies."