Metro service could be disrupted by strike vote

News-DemocratJune 10, 2013 

Metro Bus and light rail service could be disrupted as soon as Tuesday as union drivers and MetroLink operators consider a strike.

Leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 held a pair of meetings Monday to discuss a labor impasse with operators of the Metro transit system. Results of the first meeting were not immediately announced. The second meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. at ATU's south St. Louis headquarters.

Union president Mike Breihan said Monday morning just before the first meeting that he couldn't speculate on the outcome of the balloting. But bus drivers represented by the local are upset that Metro wants them to switch from a pension system to a 401k retirement program. Union members also complain that some workers haven't had a raise in four years.

"Right now we're just talking about it," Breihan said as he got ready to head into the first meeting.

Metro president and chief executive officer John Nations said Monday afternoon that he was surprised by the union's actions and that he's sure not how the situation will play out.

"We have been, at the request of the union, involved in arbitration on these issues and it is not completed at this point," Nations said. "They did not give me any advanced warning, not even the courtesy of a telephone call, to tell us that they were going to take a strike vote. We were meeting with arbitrator as late as Friday evening."

Nations said Local 788 hasn't had a strike with Metro in more than 20 years. He said Metro leaders have worked hard over the last several months to work out deals with its union workers including a new contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a deal with Call a Ride operators represented by ATU 788.

Those workers agreed to make pension and benefits concessions in exchange for pay raises, according to Nations. He said he is hopeful the same arrangement can be worked out with the drivers and light rail train operators.

The Amalgamated Transit Union is the largest labor group representing transit workers in the U.S. and Canada. It is composed of bus drivers, light rail operators, maintenance and clerical workers and other transit and municipal employees.

Metro leaders say about 75 percent of light rail and bus riders use the public transportation system to get to work and about 20 percent of riders use it to get to school.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 239-2626.

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