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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis Transit Union Approves First Contract With Metro In Five Years, Protests Oreo Incident

Members of the ATU Latino Caucus joined local 788 and members of other local unions in a protest outside Metro headquarters on Friday, September 26, 2014.
Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio

Members of St. Louis’ local transit union demonstrated outside Metro headquarters Friday morning, in a protest dubbed a “Rally for Respect.”

Local workers were joined by members of other branches of the Amalgamated Transit Union, as well as members of other local unions to form a crowd of about one a hundred.

The group circled the Metro building for about an hour, chanting phrases such as “workers, riders, side-by-side,” and carrying signs that read “They called us an Oreo.”

Although contract negotiations are at an end, union members are upset about an Oreo cookie recipe a Metro official gave union leaders during a bargaining session. 

The union sees the recipe as a case of race-baiting, while Metro says that the manager who passed out the recipe was unaware of the racial implications of Oreos.

“I don’t know anyone who bakes Oreo cookies,” Local 788 President Mike Breihan said. “We feel it was a slap in the face. Most of our workers are African American; most of our leadership is white. So he was basically saying that we are white on the inside, black on the outside.” 

Breihan said that the union is demanding that management be treated the same way workers are treated. He said that if union workers had passed out the recipe, they would have been fired, but the manager had not been disciplined.

“As of today, nothing has happened, the person that passed it across the table, he’s still working. There was no discipline, no reprimand. Nothing happened to him at all,” Breihan said.

St. Louis Public Radio tried to reach Metro CEO John Nations for a response to the demonstration, but a spokesperson said he was unavailable. Instead, Nations released the following statement:

“We negotiated in good faith, and are pleased we have new agreements with our employees.   All of us have a commitment to serving the citizens of the region and I applaud our employees for doing that work well.  We are also committed to ensuring that our employees work in an atmosphere of respect.  I have already had discussions with my senior staff on these issues.  We are going to listen to our employees, evaluate our internal communications and assure that just like we put the best transit service product on the street, we also have one of the best workplaces in transit.”

Original story published Thursday, September 25 at 10 p.m.

St. Louis’ local transit union has approved a new three-year labor deal with Metro after years of often contentious negotiations.

Credit File photo | Chris McDaniel, St. Louis Public Radio.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 voted to ratify the contract Thursday. It includes a 3 percent raise for operators, clerks, and maintenance staff; and a five percent raise for mechanics.  It also improves health care coverage and preserves the employees’ defined pension plan, which was a major sticking point in late-stage negotiations.

788 President Mike Breihan said the deal represents a good start for Metro as it seeks to improve its relationship with the union.  

“It’s strained right now,” he said.  “Anytime you go five years without a contract. Or, six years without a pay raise and you fight the fight that we fought … there’re a lot of fences that need to be mended on both sides.”

During labor negotiations, Metro was accused of “race-baiting” after a senior manager handed out copies of an Oreo cookie recipe to bargainers. The union accused the agency of trying to create a divide between Metro bus drivers and light rail operators, most of whom are black, and the largely white maintenance workers.

“The obvious message with the recipe was a racial slur that the union is ‘white on the inside and black on the outside,’ like the cookie,” read a statement on the union’s website. Metro officials said the incident was an innocent recipe exchange and not racial in nature.

The union plans to rally in front of Metro headquarters on Laclede’s Landing Friday morning for better treatment.

The Bi-State Development Agency, which oversees Metro, approved the agreement last week. The contract retroactively sets its start date as the first of last July and continues through the end of 2017.

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