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Stalled: Transit Union Says No Deal On Proposed Employment Contract

People gathered outside the Amalgamated Transit Union 788 after voting on an employment contract on Oct. 1, 2019.
File photo | Andrea Smith | St. Louis Public Radio
People gather outside the Amalgamated Transit Union 788 headquarters on the day members voted against a proposed employment contract.

The transit union that represents MetroBus and MetroLink workers voted Monday to reject Bi-State Development’s most recent proposed new employment contract.

Union representatives said the contract fell short on worker safety, wages and medical benefits. 

Bi-State Development and the Amalgamated Transit Union 788 have been negotiating for more than a year. The existing contract’s one-year extension expired at the end of June. A new contract would affect the wages and benefits of more than 1,500 workers across St. Louis-area transit systems in Missouri and Illinois, including vehicle operators and mechanics. 

'Best proposal'

Jessica Mefford-Miller, executive director of Metro Transit, said in a statement that the union’s decision means “parties have reached impasse” and that “the terms offered reflected the very best proposal that [Bi-State Development] could put forward.”

More than 600 union members voted at the union headquarters on Monday. About 79% voted against accepting the contract. 

MetroBus operator Nathan Smith voted against the contract. A bus driver for about 19 years, Smith said he thinks the proposed pay increase and pension setup don't take into account the difficulty and danger of the job. 

“The public is something else, so they need to compensate,” Smith said.

Mefford-Miller said the proposal included a 9.4% increase in wages and benefits over three years, with a $26 million increase in wages and benefits for the employees represented by the union. 

“Our employees deserve a competitive wage-and-benefit package. Our ability to deliver that to them is of course contingent on them passing a contract,” Mefford-Miller said. “We aim to deliver them a competitive contract that recognizes the hard work that they do.”

Not enough

But the union’s financial secretary treasurer, Antoian Johnson, said that the current structure of the wage increase and medical agreements doesn’t significantly improve employees’ pay. Johnson also said that contract negotiations have not sufficiently addressed the union’s concerns about working conditions and safety. 

 Antoian Johnson, the transit union's financial secretary treasurer, works in the Amalgamated Transit Union 788 headquarters on Oct. 1, 2019.
Credit Andrea Smith | St. Louis Public Radio
Antoian Johnson, the transit union's financial secretary treasurer, works in the Amalgamated Transit Union 788 headquarters.

“We are demanding that Metro moves from the position that they're in and come closer, at the very least, to the middle,” Johnson said. “Metro hasn't really done a whole lot to move forward, push the envelope forward for the people that we represent. That's a big problem for us.”

Now that members have rejected the contract, Johnson said that union bargaining representatives will try to keep working with Bi-State Development to negotiate a deal that’s closer to the union’s vision for a “fair and equitable contract.” 

Monica Harris Williams has been a MetroBus operator for about nine years. She declined to say how she voted but did express optimism.

“I hope the company realizes what we want, and, you know, ultimately give it to us, because I think we're deserving of it,” she said. “We are good drivers, and we love what we do. So I think they would eventually give us what we need.”

Johnson said that looking at accounting information provided by Metro, the union believes the agency is able to provide more substantial financial support. 

Mefford-Miller said that Metro Transit “cannot commit to presenting them with another offer at this time.” 

Follow Kae Petrin on Twitter @kmaepetrin. Follow Andrea Smith on Twitter @andr3afaith.

Send feedback and comments to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Kae Petrin covers public transportation and housing as a digital reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.
Andrea Smith is the St. Louis Public Radio Fall intern. She is an Arkansas native and a graduate from the University of Arkansas with a major in journalism and a minor in Spanish.