As tensions with management rise, Metro Transit workers have authorized a process that could ultimately lead to a strike.
Now, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 must send the request to strike to its international officials for approval.
Then, local Union President Mike Breihan said they have to wait for a final decision from the mediator, which is expected at the end of this month.
“If we cannot come to an agreement we have to post the results in the paper for ten days,” Breihan said. “After the ten days we could strike if we needed to.”
But, there’s a wild card, Breihan said it’s not clear whether they can strike under Missouri state law, a question that union lawyers are currently trying to resolve.
The major issue between workers and management is how to handle retirement benefits for future employees.
The union would like to keep a more traditional pension system.
Metro CEO and President John Nations, however, said the only way to maintain the long-term financial health of the transit agency is to move toward a 401(k) plan.
“Since 2008 the contributions required by our company into these pensions has grown by more than 65 percent,” Nations said. “That’s the type of uncertainty that we’re dealing with, and that we have to address going forward.”
Nations said he has not been in touch with union representatives since talks between the parties broke down last Friday.
The union says the earliest a strike could begin is next month.
After initial voting Monday night, union officials say 1,500 MetroBus drivers and MetroLink operators, along with mechanic, clerical and information workers appear poised to authorize a process that could ultimately lead to a strike.
President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788, Mike Breihan, said the key sticking point between workers and management is whether new employees should enroll in a 401(k) plan instead of a traditional pension system.
"The majority of them aren't that well paid,” Breihan said. “We've got people making anywhere from $14 up to $20 an hour. So, when you're putting two or three-percent of your salary, that's not a whole lot of money. And when, you're figuring trying to live on that for the rest of the time you're retired, you don't have that much money to live on."
The earliest a strike could take place is next month, and Breihan said union officials are investigating whether there are any Missouri state laws that could prevent a possible strike.
Raises are an additional issue, which Breihan said some workers haven’t received since 2008.
“We’re not asking for the moon, all we’re asking for is to make a decent living and a decent pension for our members and our families,” Breihan said.
Metro President and CEO John Nations said the move has taken him by surprise, and that the transit agency and the union have been in ongoing contract talks with an arbitrator.
"We were anticipating that the union would continue to talk with us in good faith, as we've been participating in good faith, but that process has not been completed," Nations said.
Nations said other employee groups have agreed to shifting toward a 401(k) or similar retirement system, and that a strike would seriously impact their abilities to meet the needs of Metro users.
“I’d hate to think that any of our employees at any time would take any action which would so severely disadvantage the riding public and the taxpayers of this region,” Nations said.
He said officials are currently evaluating their options should a strike occur.
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