Metro Transit employees have voted to authorize a strike.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 represents about 2,000 Metro Transit employees, including bus drivers, the people who maintain the light rail tracks, the call center and more.
The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing a strike, with 94 percent voting yes — though it doesn’t mean a strike will happen. For more, MPR News host Cathy Wurzer spoke with Ryan Timlin, president of the union representing Metro Transit workers.
Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.
We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here.
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Joining us right now is the President of the Union representing Metro Transit workers Ryan Timlin. Ryan, welcome.
RYAN TIMLIN: Thank you for having me.
CATHY WURZER: Tell us-- what is the union seeking from the Met Council on this contract that you're not getting right now?
RYAN TIMLIN: Well, right now, I have to just be blunt-- we're about to face a crisis because we're not getting the applicants or people applying for these jobs, because the market value for what they're offering for wages is not there. It's a bit different situation today than before COVID, but our numbers are going up for ridership.
And just to give a picture, I don't know what the exact numbers are today, but I know about a month ago, we were about 400 operators short. But it's more than that. We're short for bus mechanics, light rail mechanics, as you mentioned, the track maintainers, and other divisions. There's more than that we represent, but we're short in almost every position.
CATHY WURZER: So you are saying you're short in terms of workers. They're not paying a decent wage that would attract workers. Have you had, and I'm curious, have you had any cost of living adjustments?
RYAN TIMLIN: We're at the table asking for cost of living adjustment plus 3%, because workers everywhere, not just our workers, have lost with the inflation numbers over the last few years. We're trying to get them something a safety net for when inflation goes up with the cost of living adjustment, but a little bit more to help them get ahead because they've been falling behind.
Now, we don't know what there's a proposal put forward that the members can accept that doesn't have COLA. That's a different discussion. But that is what we're at the table with right now at this point.
CATHY WURZER: Ryan, you mentioned that it's tough finding workers. Metro Transit has had worker fairs, job fairs, and that kind of thing, and recruiting efforts. Safety is a concern among bus drivers and also those folks who ride the bus and are on light rail. How does safety play into your contract negotiations?
RYAN TIMLIN: It's a bit hard to get a lot of safety issues in the contract because it's a lot of broader societal issues right now. But some things just to give an example is for bus operators, since you brought bus operators up, they have what's called relief points where they go out to a bus stop, and wait, and do relief. It's not as bad as it was a year ago, but we've still had safety issues at these check points where they do relief.
We've had a couple of people mugged, and we're asking for simple things like vehicles provided to them so they can get to relief points and not have to deal with that. They have that in cities like Seattle, which is dealing with a lot of similar issues our operators are dealing with the problems out there. There's a whole list of different safety issues, but just for operators, that's one simple one we can address to reduce while they're waiting to get their bus to show up and take over.
And then that operator, who is being relieved, can take that vehicle back to the station and not have to worry about the likelihood of incident is reduced. There's always that chance, but we do have the barriers in the buses. But one thing that would help that's a larger issue and it's harder to address is just when people are exposed to drug use, not being hit with a heavy penalty of an occurrence when we've had some people get ill having reactions being exposed to the fentanyl use and other drugs that have been used on the buses. And in fact, in two situations I know of, when they went into the doctor, the doctors provided our operators with Narcan.
CATHY WURZER: So we're talking about their reaction to, as you're saying, their reaction to the drugs used on the bus by riders.
RYAN TIMLIN: Yes.
CATHY WURZER: Thank you. Are you also thinking, when it comes to these bus driver shortages that we've been dealing with, as you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, is safety concerns also putting a crimp in recruiting?
RYAN TIMLIN: I can't speak to that. On operations for operators, there has been a bit of an uptick since they did increase the wages a year ago. But there's also an issue with retention, which I think if you offer enough in wages, you'll find people who are willing to stay who have the skill to deal with the situation.
The union has worked to get different things, like an apprenticeship program to provide access to long term employees who can give advice to a new operator, because you're pretty much out there on your own most of the time. There are things that the company has worked with us on. But I think more can be done to entice, to make it a job that people want to stay at a long time, and to bring service up.
If more riders come out, a lot of that activity will slowly go away. But in order to get more riders out, we have to increase the number of operators. We've had to reduce that since before COVID, because, like I said, our numbers are down. Before COVID, I think we're roughly around 400 operators down right now.
CATHY WURZER: Final question, quick question-- you have a 10 day cooling off period before workers can strike. If there's no progress in the next 10 days, when it comes to negotiations, would you immediately call a strike?
RYAN TIMLIN: There's a bit more to it than actually just that. We still have two negotiation dates. We have negotiations on September 22 and October 5. We also have not gone into impasse yet.
This is just the members giving authorization for us to prepare for it if we need to. So we still need to reach impasse, and we still need to go to mediation before we can do a 10 day notification. So Metro Transit has an opportunity to come to the table.
They have dedicated funding. If they want to keep a system there, they need to make it enticing for people to get hired. And with dedicated funding, they have the opportunity to right now to make this a sustainable system.
CATHY WURZER: All right. Ryan, appreciate your time. Thank you.
RYAN TIMLIN: Thank you.
CATHY WURZER: Ryan Timlin is the president of the union representing Metro Transit workers. Met Council sent us a statement saying, quoting now, "we're not anticipating any immediate service impacts at this time. Our employees are integral to serving those who rely on transit. We look forward to reaching an agreement."
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