Metro-East News

As Metro negotiates with train and bus operators, how long might service be impacted?

Bi-State Development and MetroBus and MetroLink drivers union negotiations

Bi-State Development and the union representing MetroBus drivers and MetroLink train operators have been negotiating for a new contract. There has been disagreement over the length of the deal.
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Bi-State Development and the union representing MetroBus drivers and MetroLink train operators have been negotiating for a new contract. There has been disagreement over the length of the deal.

MetroLink announced Friday that its Blue Line services would be restricted until further notice due to operator shortages as negotiations continue between the union that represents them and Bi-State Development Agency.

A higher than usual number of MetroLink operators have been calling off, leading Bi-State operate Blue line service from Shrewsbury-Lansdowne I-44 station to the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink Station, possibly through the end of Friday. The Blue Line usually runs to Fairview Heights.

The Blue Line was back and running as normal by Saturday morning, but it was the third time since June that a Metro bus or light-rail route was restricted or temporarily eliminated.

Reginald Howard, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 said Bi-State is proposing a five-year contract, while the union prefers a three-year deal.

Howard said Bi-State also has offered 1.5% pay increase the first year, and then 1.5% increases every six months for the rest of the contract. The union declined, however, citing the length of the proposed deal and the unpredictable increase in medical insurance costs.

The union prefers a shorter contract, he said.

“Based on things changing, we can’t tie ourselves into a long-term contract,” Howard said. “We end up losing. We can’t agree with that.”

The union instead wants a three-year deal with 3% raises each year, union officials previously told the Post-Dispatch.

Metro Executive Director Jessica Mefford-Miller would not disclose details of the negotiations.

“I will not comment, nor should Mr. Howard, on ongoing negotiations, as we are bargaining in good faith with the Amalgamated Transit Union,” Mefford-Miller said.

Both sides met on Monday and are scheduled to meet again on Aug. 23. Mefford-Miller said she expects both sides to exchange proposals before the next meeting.

“We are moving towards advancing a fair contract with the union.” Mefford-Miller said.

An agreement would ultimately have to be approved both by the union’s members and the Bi-State Board of Commissioners.

Friday’s announcement of limited Blue Line service follows a spike in incidents of bus drivers calling in sick or not taking extra shifts. That trend began in July. Those situations prompted Metro to warn riders to allow extra time for their commutes. Delays on both the Red and Blue Lines were between 15 and 20 minutes.

Howard said he did not know ahead of time of the higher-than-usual number of operators calling off.

The union represents more than 2,000 transit workers and retirees from Metro maintenance, operations, and clerical staff to school buses workers, according to its website.

Mefford-Miller said she suspects the call-offs are related to the ongoing negotiations.

There is a nation-wide shortage of bus drivers, but that problem does not extend to the light-rail system, Medford Miller said.

“We are not short-staffed on MetroLink operators. We are fully staffed. There is no reason we should not have been able to field that service today,” Mefford-Miller said. “So I regret this is impacting our customers today.”

Negotiations have been ongoing since September. The union’s original contract expired in December of 2017, but was extended until the end of June of this year.

“We want to deliver a fair contract to our team members. We recognize the good work that they do every day, and the value they bring in moving people across the St. Louis region,” Mefford-Miller said.

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.