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Union Metro Workers Accept Part, Reject Part of Contract Recommendations

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Photo: KMOX

Photo: KMOX

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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 voted Tuesday to accept the recommendation of a mediator when it comes to pensions and pay.

However, the membership voted to reject recommendations on changes to health insurance and retirement medical benefits.

Pay would increase about 11% over 4.5 years. Most of that would be in the form of back pay since the union membership hasn’t had a raise in five years.

Also accepted was the mediator’s recommendation not to put pensions on a 401K plan. ATU Local 788 President Mike Breihan said members fear they would not have enough to retire on under a 401K plan. He said moving to a 401K plan would do nothing but destroy the benefit plan for the future.

“The economy, stock market is unpredictable,” Breihan told KMOX News.

Another change: new hires would not be eligible for retirement for thirty years. Currently, the requirement is 25 years.

“That would actually save the pension plan $3.6 million over the years,” said Breihan.

Union membership rejected Metro’s proposals to change health insurance. “They wanted to eliminate our 100% plan.”

Concerning retirees medical benefits, “They want to take the retirees off Metro’s medical coverage and put them into an H.R.A. account, a Health Retirement Account. It would possibly run the retirees costs up.” said Breihan.

“We are ready now to go back to the table with Metro,” he added.

Reaction came from Metro CEO. John Nations: “It sounds like the result ended where we anticipated. That did not resolve the issues between us. Now the union has rejected a portion of the arbitrator’s decision and Metro has rejected part of it.”

“We have to come up with a plan, a compensation and benefits plan that is financially sustainable. It would take a massive amount of new taxes coming from our jurisdictions in order to fund the union demands. Frankly we don’t see public support for additional taxes for our agency at this time and it’s not something we’re advocating for,” he added.

On the 11 percent raise over 4.5 years, Nations said, “Not only would that require more than $15 million in the next nine months but the agency has been specifically criticized in the past by the auditors for granting retroactive pay increases. That is not acceptable, not something we can accept, even if we wanted to.”

On the 401K proposal, the Metro CEO added, ” We need a retirement system that works for our workers and is affordable for our company. We have more than a thousand employees with whom we have come to terms that have moved to a 401K style plan for new hires. Even our Call-A-Ride employees who are represented by this very same union are in a 401K style plan that the union has agreed to.”

“These are not issues that can be piece-mealed,” said Nations. “We have to have a pension plan , a medical plan and a wage plan, which are the three major costs…in order to have a competitive compensation plan.

“I’m actually very optimistic. If you look at the major things we do agree on , which is the financial constraints of the company, the fact that it would take a massive new tax increase to fund whats being proposed by the union, which I don’t hear anyone supporting and we’re not advocating for, and the fact that the arbitrator agrees very strongly that the pension system can not remain the way it is. I think that represents real progress on the part of these negotiations.”

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