As Metro looks to grow, strike vote looms

Posted at 7:43 AM, Nov 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-30 07:43:14-05

CINCINNATI – Big decisions and negotiations are in store this week for leaders at Metro and the union that represents hundreds of city bus drivers.

Officials with Metro and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 627 are slated to meet Wednesday with the hope of negotiating final terms of a new three-year contract.

The union’s contract with Metro expired Oct. 31 with the two sides unable to make a deal on final terms involving the use of new smaller buses on certain city routes. If an agreement can’t be made Wednesday, the union expects to hold a vote Thursday to authorize a strike of its 700 bus drivers and mechanics.

The clash comes at a critical time for Metro, which serves 60,000 riders a day.

The transit group is considering how to best expand and whether floating a vote for a tax levy is prudent. A vote to authorize a strike could indefinitely delay decision-making on that front and leave tens of thousands of area residents stranded until bus service resumes.

For now, however, leaders with Metro and the union say they’re committed to working toward a solution this week.

“Metro has asked to sit down and I want to hear what they have to say, and maybe we can come to an agreement,” said Troy Miller, ATU president. “I’m hoping that it all works out.”

“Both Sides Eager to Talk” Ahead of Strike Vote

At issue is a proposal by Metro to use smaller buses along routes where ridership has dipped – negating the need for larger buses. But language in the proposed contract would prevent current metro bus drivers from applying for those jobs unless their current position was eliminated, Miller said.

If terms of a new contract can’t be agreed to, Miller has said the union -- which includes 700 Metro drivers and mechanics – is prepared to take a strike authorization vote on Thursday.

“A strike wouldn’t be good for the ridership, it wouldn’t be  good for the employees and we know that,” Miller said. “So hopefully metro says, ‘Let’s figure something out and get this done.’”

Officials with Metro declined to discuss negotiation details, but confirmed a meeting is planned for next week.

“We truly hope that we’re able to come to an agreement so that every can move forward,” said Sallie Hilvers, a spokeswoman for Metro. “Both sides are eager to talk.”

Since Metro become a public bus service in 1973 there have been five work stoppages by the union, according to Metro. The last strike occurred in 1988 – lasting 12 days.

If a strike is authorized by the union this week, one would not occur immediately. Metro and the union are required to first meet with a state mediator. If terms aren’t agreed to from there, a 10-day waiting period would be required before a strike could begin, Miller said.

Planning For the Future

Meanwhile, the agency that oversees Metro’s operations has been working for months to study Metro’s service offerings and best ways to grow in the region.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority just this month released results of a University of Cincinnati Economics Center study showing that while the service is run efficiently, it could do better connecting residents to jobs in the region.

During the month of October Metro hosted a series of public “listening” sessions across Hamilton County to get feedback from residents. The forums were part of the work under way by Metro’s Futures Task Force to examine where and how it might grow bus service.

Feedback from the listening session will be analyzed as the Futures Task Force prepares to deliver an action plan for Metro’s operational and financial future in early 2016, said Jason Dunn, board chair of the transit authority.

“We have to have honest discussions about the growth of our region, and if we don’t have a focus on a robust transportation system, we won’t have a robust region,” Dunn told WCPO.