St. Louis Metro workers ratify new contract, call on Metro board, elected officials to address ‘Oreo’ incident

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RALLYING FOR RESPECT, about 200 Metro workers, members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788, and supporting union members gathered outside Metro headquarters on Friday, Sept. 26, to demand action on Metro negotiators race-baiting efforts to divide the mostly African-American union. – Labor Tribune photo
RALLYING FOR RESPECT, about 200 Metro workers, members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788, and supporting union members gathered outside Metro headquarters on Friday, Sept. 26, to demand action on Metro negotiators race-baiting efforts to divide the mostly African-American union.
– Labor Tribune photo

Contract includes pension protections, 3% raise for operators, 5% for mechanics

By TIM ROWDEN

Editor

Hours after ratifying a new three-year labor deal with Metro after years of contentious negotiations, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 members took to the streets outside Metro headquarters on Laclede’s Landing in downtown St. Louis Sept. 26, to demand Metro CEO John Nations and elected officials to remove the staff responsible for race-baiting workers during the negotiations.

The new contract includes a 3 percent race for Metro bus and train operators, clerical and maintenance staff, a 5 percent raise for mechanics and protection of workers’ defined benefit pension plan, which Metro had sought to replace with a 401(k) type plan.

ON THE MARCH: Metro workers and supporting union members marched around Metro headquarters to send a message to CEO John Nations that his teams’ race-baiting negotiating tactics were not acceptable and would not be forgotten. –Labor Tribune photo
ON THE MARCH: Metro workers and supporting union members marched around Metro headquarters to send a message to CEO John Nations that his teams’ race-baiting negotiating tactics were not acceptable and would not be forgotten.
– Labor Tribune photo

Metro workers had been working without a contract for nearly four years and had not had a raise in six years.

The Bi-State Development Agency, which oversees Metro, approved the agreement last week.

Local 788 President and Business manager Mike Breihan said the raises would be retroactive to July 1.

RACE BAITING

Breihan said Metro management attempted, on numerous occasions, to racially divide workers and divide the workers along job classifications between mechanics and operators during the negotiations.

One of the most egregious incidents occurred when a member of Metro’s negotiating committee distributed a recipe for “Oreo cookies” to members of Local 788 at the conclusion of a heated bargaining session.

The majority of Metro bus and train operators are African-American. Breihan and ATU International President Larry Hanley are white.

BREIHAN
BREIHAN

“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,” the union said in a statement.

“He said, ‘Here, here’s a present for you guys,'” Breihan said. “Basically, they’re saying this is a black union that’s white on the inside. The leadership is white and the membership is black.”

Hanley traveled to St. Louis for the rally and march in front of Metro headquarters.

“When we learned in Washington that this organization sat at the bargaining table and tried to racially divide ATU Local 788, that they had the nerve to call us a bunch of Oreos, we were stunned,” Hanley said. “This is a 21st Century transit agency where the people in charge are stuck in the 19th Century. This is an organization where racism is an accepted way of doing business.”

ATU has contacted Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn about the incident and is awaiting their response.

NOT ALONE

STANDING TOGETHER: Mark Esters (center of photo in red shirt), vice president of the CBTU St. Louis Chapter and organizer for CWA Local 6355, told Metro workers “ATU is not in this alone… We’re going to be here a long time.” – Labor Tribune photo
STANDING TOGETHER: Mark Esters (center of photo in red shirt), vice president of the CBTU St. Louis Chapter and organizer for CWA Local 6355, told Metro workers “ATU is not in this alone… We’re going to be here a long time.”
– Labor Tribune photo

Local 788 was joined by representatives from the ATU Latino Caucus, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Jobs with Justice, the Missouri NAACP, Service Employees Local 1, CWA Local 6355, Laborers Local 110, the Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans and Show Me $15, the coalition of fast food workers fighting for $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

“ATU is not in this alone,” said Mark Esters, vice president of the CBTU St. Louis Chapter an organizer for CWA Local 6355. “We’ve got to be sure we’ve got our community partners in this fight. We’re glad to be a part of it, and we’re going to be here a long time.”

Esters urged Local 788 members and the other unions present to use the contract fight and the Oreo incident to build their capacity and build their membership.

FIGHTING FOR DIGNITY

Todd Brogan, field mobilization specialist for ATU, said Local 788’s fight is not over.

“Despite wining this contract, they are not going to stop fighting for the dignity and respect that they deserve,” Brogan said. “We are going to be there for your fight.”

CALL JOHN NATIONS

Everyone loves Oreo cookies, but no one appreciates being called an “Oreo.”

Local 788 is urging everyone to call Nations to tell him economic justice isn’t about race; it’s about respect!

Call Nations at 314-982-1400.

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