St. Louis Metro workers declare victory, secure agreement preserving retirement security

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Standing Ovation
CHEERING VICTORY: Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 President Mike Breihan (at the microphone) was greeted with a standing ovation by the roughly 200 delegates attending at the Missouri AFL-CIO’s biennial convention Sept. 17 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Louis after announcing a tentative agreement between Local 788 and Metro on a new contract that preserves workers’ retirement security. – Labor Tribune photo

Union calls on Metro board, elected officials to address ‘Oreo’ incident

By TIM ROWDEN

Editor

After Metro workers waged an aggressive campaign that included leafleting passengers and the general public at garages, bus stops and MetroLink stops, the Bi-State Development Agency (Metro) and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 have reached an agreement on a fair contract that preserves workers’ retirement security in the form of a defined benefit pension plan, increases wages, and improves health care coverage.

“This is an historic day and a big victory for all of St. Louis. Working people in this city have been under attack for years, but today, Metro workers and their allies reversed the momentum,” said Local 788 President Mike Breihan. “We drew a line in the sand and said, ‘No, you can’t take what little we have left.’”

Breihan announced the agreement Sept. 17 at the Missouri AFL-CIO’s 27th Biennial Convention in St. Louis and was greeted with a standing ovation from the roughly 200 union delegates in attendance.

DRAMATIC MONTH

Leafleting
SPREADING THE WORD: Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) International Vice President Ray Rivera (left) joined members of Local 788 leafleting disembarking MetroLink passengers on Aug. 25 at the transit authority’s Civic Center Station on 14th Street. – Labor Tribune photo

The agreement was ratified by Metro workers Sept. 25, following a dramatic month in the long-standing dispute between Metro and Local 788.

Metro workers leafleted riders at transit centers and organized demonstrations at Metro HQ to draw attention to the economic injustice perpetrated by Metro CEO John Nations on St. Louis riders and workers alike.

Metro workers have been working without a contract for three-and-a-half years and have not had a raise in six years.

METRO’S RACE BAITING

Metro management attempted, on numerous occasions, to racially divide workers during the negotiations.

One of the most egregious incidents was when members of Metro’s negotiating committee attempted to race-bait workers by distributing a recipe for “Oreo cookies” to members of Local 788 at the conclusion of a heated bargaining session.

The majority of Metro bus operators are African-American, while the Local President is white. 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.

In response, ATU called on Nations and elected officials to remove the staff responsible for the incident. Workers also launched an “Oreo” ad campaign in a local newspaper and local radio stations to highlight Metro’s attempts to racially divide the workforce.

“Securing the agreement is a victory, but it doesn’t resolve the pain and outrage that the Oreo incident caused. This issue must be addressed,” Breihan said.

“After all our community has been through in the last month, we will not accept behavior like this,” he added, referencing the recent unrest in the city of Ferguson, where Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer.

“We will be calling on the Metro Board and elected officials to address this immediately,” Breihan said.

AWAITING A RESPONSE

ATU International President Larry Hanley said the union was awaiting a response from Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on their positions about Metro government officials using racial slurs at the bargaining table.

“This is how you use the ‘N’ word without saying it,” Hanley said. “It must be dealt with swiftly and with respect for the workers of St Louis.”

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