Members of Amalgamated Transit Union 788 have authorized a strike that could shut down Metro transit bus and light rail service, according to the union.
Workers, upset about proposed changes to their pension plan and a lack of raises for some employees, voted to authorize the strike during two meetings Monday and another meeting on Tuesday to discuss and vote on a proposed strike.
Mike Breihan, president of the union's local chapter, said the current contract for Transit workers expired in June 2009 and since then wages have stagnated while health care and pension costs increased. The local union represents about 1,200 bus and MetroLink drivers, mechanics and clerical workers.
"We don't want to strike and we don't want to abandon the people of St. Louis who rely on us to get to work, school and other daily tasks," Breihan said in a statement after the vote. "We want our riders to know that we stand ready to negotiate a fair contract, but we cannot accept a contract that essentially sets us back to where we were decades ago."
John Nations, Metro president and chief executive officer, said he was shocked to learn of the strike vote because the transit authority and the union were in the middle of arbitration over the contract. The sides met for two and a half hours on Friday.
Talks broke down when Metro management walked out of the meeting after the union refused to accept additional concessions in the contract, according to the union.
The arbitration process is expected to last until the end of June. Metro leaders are hopeful that a strike -- which would disrupt train and bus service -- would not happen before then, if it were to happen at all.
Patty Beck, spokeswoman for Metro, said she could not speculate on whether the agency would attempt to keep busses and trains going in the event of a strike.
"I think it is premature to talk about that," Beck said. "But it's against the law for transportation workers to strike in the state of Missouri, so we'd have to see where that comes into play if we get that far."
Beck said it is not against the law for transportation workers to strike in Illinois. Although Metro buses and trains operate in Illinois, the agency and the union's headquarters are both in Missouri.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2626.