(KMOV.com) -- Metro Transit workers on Tuesday voted to authorize a strike after Metro management walked away from mediation last week with employees concerning worker contracts.
The vote of members in Local 788 of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) has Metro Transit workers upset with management saying they have shown bad faith bargaining. The vote sets the stage for a possible strike. Local 788 represents 1,200 Metro bus operators, MetroLink drivers, mechanics and clerical workers.
Local 788 President Mike Breihan said the union doesn’t want to strike or abandon the people of St. Louis who rely on Metro.
“We want our riders to know that we stand ready to negotiate a fair contract,” said Breihan, “But that we cannot accept a contract that essentially sets up back to where we were decades ago.”
Last Friday, Metro management stormed out of mediated negotiations after the union refused to accept the additional contract concessions. Local 788 said worker had already made benefit concessions to save the system money and had proposed even more.
The union said they worked hard to support Proposition A in 2010 to secure a half-cent sales tax increase designated to fund the continued operation and expansion of the transit system.
“We have gone the extra mile – working without a new contract for almost four years now,” said Breihan, “It’s simply wrong to demand more.”
The current contract expired on June 30, 2009, and the workers agreed to two extensions – the last of which ended on January 21, 2011. Over that same period, the union said Metro workers’ wages have stagnated while health care and pension costs increased.
Metro responded to the strike vote by pointing out that the union knows a strike is illegal in Missouri.
“Many people worked very hard to pass Proposition A in St. Louis County in 2012,” said Metro President and CEO John Nations, “But voters did not vote for giving into unreasonable demands by the union.”
Nations also said he hopes that all Metro employees accept the financial realities the must face as a company in the 21 century.
“We have never refused to talk to the union,” Nations further explained, “We never walked out of talks. We remain hopeful that they will return to the table in good faith ready to seriously discuss the issues.”
But Breihan said the union is ready to bargain and hope to not need to strike.
“It’s time for management to bargain in good faith and recognize the commitment, dedication and hard work of transit workers,” Breihan continued, “We care about our passengers and we will do everything we can to avoid an interruption in their service.”
But Breihan said they union may not have a choice if they want a fair contract.
Voting began Monday and was continuing through Tuesday evening on a strike authorization vote for Metro workers. Even if a strike is authorized it wouldn’t be immediate. Management and Local 788 of the Amalgamated Transit Union are in mediation through the end of June.
Union leaders are concerned about proposals to change the pension, and they say union members have not had a raise since 2008.
Metro serves people in Missouri and Illinois. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Missouri law appears to bar a strike. Illinois law does not, but since Metro is based in St. Louis, Missouri law would take precedent.