Metro Transit and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 are heading back to the bargaining table on Wednesday afternoon.
The central issue continues to be the retirement package offered to new transit workers.
Metro is pushing for a 401(k)-style retirement plan for new workers only, saying the transit agency can’t maintain costs associated with the traditional defined benefit pension system that’s currently in place. Representatives for transit workers have rejected that idea, and want to ensure pensions remain in place for new workers. Raises and healthcare benefits for workers are also key issues.
Metro CEO and President John Nations is optimistic that a deal with workers can be struck in the near future.
“The sooner we can resolve issues, the sooner that we can move on, the sooner we can do long-range planning, that’s better for our customers, that’s better for the region, and that’s better for our company and that’s better for our employees,” Nations says.
In June, MetroBus drivers and MetroLink operators, along with mechanic, clerical and information workers voted to authorize a strike.
Nations called rumors that Metro would lock out employees “completely false.”
Local union President Mike Breihan says the authorization to strike is still being reviewed by the international union leadership and puts the chances of a work stoppage at 50/50.
“We watched what happened out in San Francisco,” Breihan says. “We just were at a meeting with the international (union) and they were talking about the different regions across the country where people stopped negotiating with the unions and there’s been a of couple strikes, and we may be the next one in line.”
While he says union officials are prepared to spend hours at the negotiating table in search of a deal and that workers don’t want to strike or harm the riding public, their options could be limited.
“Eventually you have to stand up and say enough is enough," Breihan says. "We’ve been without a contract for four years and without a pay raise for five years.”
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