The threat of a Super Bowl strike by Metro Transit workers looms over ongoing contract negotiations between the Metropolitan Council and the union representing roughly 2,500 transit service employees.
Ninety-three percent of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 members voted Nov. 13 to reject the latest offer from Met Council and authorize a strike. That strike would take place during the 10-day Super Bowl celebration scheduled to start in late January, just as thousands of visitors begin to stream into Minneapolis for the Feb. 4 game.
The union’s last contract expired at the end of July, and ATU and Met Council have been meeting with a state mediator to try to resolve the contract dispute. Local 1005 President Mark Lawson said the proposed Jan. 26 start date for the strike would “put the pressure on them to get serious about this.”
“We already went by a big event with the (Minnesota) State Fair without a contract,” Lawson said. “We want to get this settled.”
The union represents bus and light rail vehicle drivers, technicians and office staff employed by Metro Transit.
Speaking about Super Bowl plans a few hours before the contract vote results were made public, Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb described talk of a strike as “premature” and emphasized that a functioning transit system was key to the Twin Cities successfully hosting a Super Bowl.
Plans for game day include using Metro Transit light rail vehicles to shuttle ticket holders inside the security perimeter surrounding U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We are very optimistic that we’re going to reach a negotiated settlement as we have with ATU for the last five contract periods,” Lamb said.
Local 1005 and Met Council are negotiating the terms of a three-year contract that will be retroactive to Aug. 1. Lawson said there were a few key differences in the positions held by the union and Met Council, including a cap on weekly hours for part-time drivers, the required tool list for mechanics and the union’s proposals to enhance driver safety.
Lawson said Met Council was proposing to allow part-time drivers to work more than 30 hours per week, the current limit, if they’re running late due to weather, traffic, construction or other delays. He said that would push many part-time drivers closer to fulltime hours while retaining just their part-time benefits, adding that many of those drivers chose the job because they don’t want to work more than 30 hours a week.
Regarding the toolbox required of mechanics, Lawson said the union and Met Council had been working together to update a tool list that hadn’t been modified in about 30 years. Both sides agree those updates are needed to keep pace with changing technology, he said, but the union wants a significant increase in the $400-per-year tool allowance for mechanics. Without that change, Lawson said, mechanics would face a jump in out-of-pocket expenses.
The union is also negotiating for enhanced driver safety measures, and Lawson said members have been pushing for the installation of security doors on buses. Physical barriers made of Plexiglas or a similar transparent material are used in a few cities but are not yet common in North America, he said.
In addition to being spit on, egged, smacked and groped during 17 years as a bus driver, Metro Transit employee Jeanne O’Neill said she has been threatened with physical harm “more times than I can count.” O’Neill said behavior problems seemed to have gotten worse and that it was time for Metro Transit to take a “proactive approach” to protecting drivers.
“The planes have the cockpit. The trains have their locked doors. Why not the bus drivers? We need to be safe,” she said.
Lawson said the two sides are not quite as far apart on a few other key issues, including pay and benefits. Met Council’s most recent proposal included 2-percent annual raises for workers, he said. The union is also pushing Met Council to add a second on-site clinic — similar to one in the agency’s St. Paul headquarters — for workers based in Minneapolis.
Addressing Met Council members before their Oct. 25 meeting, Ryan Timlin, who ran unopposed this fall to succeed Lawson as Local 1005 president, said the agency was to blame for the slow pace of progress on contract talks.
“There’s been a lot of feet dragging by Metropolitan Council so we’re here tonight to make it clear we’re tired of this,” Timlin said.
Asked to comment in November, a Met Council spokesperson shared this statement:
“We value the work of ATU members and their contribution to our region. We are currently negotiating in good faith through a mediator and are confident we’ll reach an agreement satisfactory to both parties.”
— Nate Gotlieb contributed to this report.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Jeanne O’Neill’s name.