Union leader says Metro strike will not begin Monday

News-DemocratJune 29, 2013 

While management at Metro has issued a statement that bus and MetroLink service could be disrupted on Monday because of a drivers strike, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 said that will not and cannot happen.

"The union cannot do anything until after the final decision from the arbitrator is in," Local 788 President Mike Breihan said on Saturday.

Metro officials have said that there is a possibility of transit service disruption by members of Local 788, the union that represents Metro Call-A-Ride, MetroBus and MetroLink operators, mechanics and some clerical employees.

However, Breihan said a dispute over retirement benefits and pay cannot lead to a work stoppage until 10 days after an Iowa-based arbitrator issues a ruling that is disputed by one of the sides. The 10-day waiting period is required under state law, he said.

"I don't expect a decision (from the arbitrator) until July 5," Breihan said.

While Metro spokeswoman Patti Beck said Metro employees have no right to strike, Breihan said that isn't true. He conceded that in Missouri employees that serve the public can't strike but he expects that if the arbitrator's decision is disputed, lawyers for the union will argue that the local's members are not "public" employees.

Breihan said that fliers that are being handed out to customers stating that a strike could happen on Monday are erroneous and are being distributed by management and employees of Call-A-Ride, who are union members but have already signed their contract.

John Nations, the chief executive officer of Metro, has said he isn't sure 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."

However, if a strike were to occur:

* There would be no MetroBus or MetroLink service.

* If sufficient manpower is available, Metro Call-A-Ride service would be provided, but would be limited to services contracted by the Transportation Management Association. No other Metro Call-A-Ride service would be provided.

* Monthly and weekly passes would be accepted into the next month or week based on the number of days of the service stoppage; or customers may return their passes by mail (with a return address) to Metro, Attn: Pass Return, 707 N. First St., St. Louis, MO 63102, and in exchange, they will be sent the equivalent number of day passes.

* There would be no cash refunds.

* Metro transit service would resume after operators and mechanics notify Metro of their intention to return to work in sufficient numbers to provide a safe and reliable transit service and the system can again be put back into operation after appropriate safety inspections. It will take some time to recertify the system for safe operation.

* Customers would be kept informed through social media, at metrostlouis.org or by calling customer service at 314-231-2345 or 618-271-2345 during business hours.

"This community relies on Metro for more than 900,000 transit trips each week," Nations said. "It is unfortunate that the ATU membership would even consider taking illegal action against a community that has done so much to support its transit system. It is our hope that Local 788 will not resort to illegal activity to advance its bargaining position. We would strongly prefer to resolve our differences across the bargaining table."

Metro said the primary sticking point concerns retirement benefits for future Metro employees. Currently, the pension fund for operators, mechanics, and clerical employees is underfunded by more than $83 million, according to Metro officials.

Metro said the union would like to continue the current plan to cover newly hired employees. However, Metro said this plan is "financially unsound."

"Metro believes the best way to provide a sustainable retirement plan going forward is to provide new hires with a 401 (k) based retirement program while allowing existing employees to remain in the current pension plan," according to a Metro news release.

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