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Metro Transit and union can’t agree on a contract. Riders are paying the price

A passenger boards an electric bus on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, at the St. Louis MetroLink’s Grand Station.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Passengers wait for the light rail train in January at St. Louis MetroLink’s Grand Station.

Some Metro bus riders encountered longer wait times for buses this week as dozens of employees have called in sick.

Metro Transit officials accused the union of organizing a call-in-sick campaign to protest stalled contract negotiations. Union officials say they did not organize the effort.

Many workers are calling in sick because they are upset about how the company treats them, said Reginald Howard, president of ATU Local 788.

The workers’ contract ended July 1. On Aug. 18, union leaders and Metro Transit officials will meet with a federal mediator to try to reach an agreement on a new contract. Howard said workers are seeking higher pay to cope with inflation.

“There's no way that we're going to be able to continue to operate in the capacity that we are,” Howard said. “We're constantly losing people.”

In recent months, Metro Transit has reduced the frequency of many routes because of a worker shortage. To hire and retain enough workers, Howard said the company needs to pay more and hire more security for buses throughout the city.

In a statement, union members said they deserve to be paid more because they’ve worked through the coronavirus pandemic and increased violence in the St. Louis region.

“There have been a few exchanges of proposals, however, we do not feel that the current proposals offered by our transit agency partners reflect the work and sacrifice our members have made over these last few years,” the statement said.

The union represents more than 2,000 transit workers and retirees in the St. Louis area. About 100 workers called in sick Thursday, and around 80 called in today, according to Metro Transit officials.

Metro Transit officials have apologized to riders for delays — which could be up to an hour at some St. Louis stops.

Metro Transit released a statement Friday promising to increase wages without outlining specific amounts.

“We expect to increase wages and believe that our operators deserve wage adjustments, however, these must be completed with reasonable economic bounds to maintain the financial integrity of the very system they work within,” transit officials said.

Any wage increase needs to be economically feasible, said Taulby Roach, CEO of Bi-State Development, which operates Metro Transit.

“They deserve their work to be respected and honored and we’ll continue to do that, but we have to be sure that this service is affordable and sustainable, not only this year, but the next year, and the year after that,” Roach said.

Farrah Anderson is the newsroom intern at St. Louis Public Radio. Follow her on Twitter: @farrahsoa.

Farrah Anderson is an intern at Illinois Public Media and a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is studying journalism. She previously interned for St. Louis Public Radio in the summer of 2022.