Twin Cities bus strike averted with new contract


ST. PAUL — Unionized transit workers voted Monday, Dec. 18, to approve the Metropolitan Council's latest contract offer, averting a strike that would've disrupted Twin Cities transportation during the Super Bowl.

Union workers had met over the previous two days to vote on the proposal, announcing the contract approval Monday afternoon. The new contract includes term and wage rate increases, driver safety measures, sick leave policy changes and more.

"In my opinion, it's a fair compromise," said Mark Lawson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005. "We didn't get everything we wanted, management didn't get everything they wanted."

Transit workers overwhelmingly rejected a Met Council contract offer in November and threatened to strike during the Super Bowl if the dispute wasn't resolved.

On Monday, 82 percent of ATU Local 1005 members voted in favor of ratifying the latest contract proposal.

The three-year agreement represents a shift from the normal two-year contract. The contract will provide a wage increase of 2.5 percent in each of its three years — through July 31, 2020.

"We'll be able to focus on providing the service to the community and to guests of our city during the Super Bowl, without the distractions hanging over our heads," Lawson said.

Addressing operator safety

The contract includes a new operator safety barrier pilot program to address assault concerns.

Last year, 162 assaults were reported on Metro Transit bus and light-rail operators. Assaults include physical attacks, spitting, verbal harassment and threats.

Plexiglas driver enclosures will be installed on 20 Metro Transit buses in the coming weeks for a six-month test.

"I just appreciate ... that this has become a concern, that something's being done about it," said Metro Transit bus driver Jeanne O'Neill. "There's drivers assaulted all the time ... and it needs to stop."

O'Neill, who has been assaulted multiple times in her 17 years as a driver, said she thinks the shields are a good step toward preventing attacks.

A joint safety barrier evaluation committee will be established to regularly discuss the barriers and other possible protective measures. The subcommittee, comprised of operators and management, will function under the Transit Safety and Security Committee.

"We will be actively asking for results from these tests, and also trying to implement other safety precautions to keep our drivers, and our rail operators and everyone else ... safe," said Metro Transit bus driver David Stiggers.

Met Council spokeswoman Kate Brickman said the committee will evaluate the effectiveness of the shields for potential use across Metro Transit's bus fleet.

"Our bus drivers interact with the public every day, and we want to make sure that that experience is safe for both the operators and for the customers who are using the bus," she said.

A 'fair' agreement

Brickman said the Met Council was happy to propose a contract that was fair and respectful of ATU members' needs.

Other points of dispute addressed in the contract include:

• Allowing employees to use sick leave hours in smaller increments — two hours compared to the previous four-hour minimum.

• Maintaining current health care plans.

• Increasing tool allowance for vehicle technicians.

• Establishing a joint committee to ensure drivers have sufficient access to restrooms along routes.

O'Neill said she's relieved the negotiations ended successfully and avoided a strike during Super Bowl LII in February.

"The drivers, overall, they don't want to strike either," O'Neill said. "I just don't think it's, especially with the Super Bowl, in anyone's best interest to go on strike."