3½ years without a contract; 6 without a raise
By TIM ROWDEN
“You’re either on the bus or off the bus,” Ken Kesey wrote, and as far as Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 788 is concerned, Metro Transit CEO John Nations is off the bus.
Within hours of receiving a letter from ATU International President Larry Hanley demanding that Metro management end “race baiting at the bargaining table,” Metro issued a gag order to prevent workers from leafleting or talking with the people of St. Louis on Metro property including garages, bus stops and MetroLink stops.
Hanley said the abrupt enforcement of a previously unenforced policy suggests intimidation.
“This is a serious violation of our First Amendment rights at a time when our members and riders in St. Louis need it the least,” said Hanley. “We will not be intimidated or divided. Instead, we will be back at stations to tell our riders the truth about John Nations and his role in fueling the economic injustice that holds great cities like this back.”
Metro workers have been working without a contract for three-and-a-half years and have not had a raise in six years.
The letter to Nations was in response to an incident at a July negotiating session during which a member of Metro’s bargaining team distributed what he called “a gift” to Local 788: a recipe for OREO Cookies.
The bizarre event followed a series of attempts by the agency to “drive a wedge between the mostly white maintenance employees and its drivers and other members,” “incite discord among our members,” and “splinter our local,” the letter said.
“We are appalled by this blatant insult and transparent race baiting,” Hanley wrote. “Such arrogance has no place at the bargaining table or anywhere, especially in today’s climate of unrest. We hope you share our view that the Metro employee who did this should not continue in your employ.”
LETTING THE PUBLIC KNOW
Metro transit workers began leafleting riders on Aug. 25 to highlight Nations’ poor management of the system and treatment of riders and workers.
Nations, they say, promised riders and workers when he was appointed to build a transit system that worked for all. Instead, he has raised fares, refused to give workers a contract for three and a half years or a raise for more than six years, and is threatening their retirement security. All the while, Nations is lining his pockets with a $250,000 salary.
One of the sticking points in the contract negotiations is Metro’s effort to turn its defined benefit pension plan into a 401(k) plan, or have Local 788 take over the pension program.
After receiving the gag order, Local 788 members began leafleting just off the Metro properties. Passengers and pedestrians were more than willing to take a couple of steps to find out what was going on.
‘HERE TO HELP’
Local 788 members were joined by representatives from the International Union.
“We’re here to help them in their fight,” said ATU International Vice President Paul Bowen, of Detroit. “As you know what happened when they cut the pensions for Detroit retirees, I am compelled to come here. We don’t want that to happen in St. Louis.”
Local 788 President and Business Agent Michael Breihan said the union spent $150,000 as its share of the cost for a mediator to conduct a fact-finding report last year.
Terry Bethel, the federal mediator, issues the results of his report last year and found that workers who provide public transportation should be given a “livable wage increase” and that a 401(k) plan should not replace Metro workers’ “modest pension plan.”
In addition to keeping the current pension plan, Local 788 has proposed a modest three percent raise for operators and a five percent raise for maintenance employees over the course of a two-year contract.
“The members are frustrated,” Breihan said.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
ATU Local 788 is asking every union member and rider in St. Louis to take action by calling John Nations at 314-982-1400 and telling him to quit dividing the city and settle a fair contract for Metro workers.