Pro-labor mayor in 'awkward' position


ASA pilot
Mar 31, 2005
Total Time
Here is an article about a very pro-labor mayor who is having to play the part of management. This is a very good lesson for those who are in the "unions are always right camp".

August 30, 2005

Pro-labor mayor in ‘awkward’ position


The last big bus strike in October 1980 lasted 18 days. But this time drivers have lost one of their biggest supporters from that fight — transit district director and Santa Cruz mayor Mike Rotkin.

The 1980 battle raged over pay raises, part-time staffing and binding arbitration.

This one centers on benefits — and whether unionized drivers or the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District should pay for them.

A union man, Rotkin serves as president of American Federation of Teachers Local 2199 and vice president for organizing in the state University Council of the American Federation of Teachers. He’s used to being on the same side as United Transportation Union Local 23, which represents about 160 drivers.

It’s that experience, he said, that leaves him confident Metro is offering a fair deal, considering the agency’s budget.

The district "had money back in 1980, they just didn’t feel like they should give it to the drivers," Rotkin said.

Now, "I’ve been working with the district for 25 years and I understand budgets," Rotkin said Monday. "There’s no more money in this budget."

A Sentinel story on the 1980 strike quoted Rotkin saying drivers walked off the job after the board’s failure "to go the extra mile."

"The public should support the drivers," Rotkin said, 25 years ago.

Friday, he motioned to unilaterally implement driver contracts. The board unanimously approved.

Drivers weren’t impressed.

"Mike Rotkin is a union rep and I expect him to stand up for labor," said bus driver and union leader Bonnie Morr.

Still, Morr acknowledged, "he also wears lots of hats for the city." Those different responsibilities can land him in conflicting situations.

While Rotkin supports the district, he agreed the conflict is difficult.

"I’ve been a union activist all my life. I don’t much like being on the management side and saying there’s no money," he said. "Its awkward for me, frankly."

Contact Genevieve Bookwalter at