Nearly 2,400 unionized Metro Transit employees, including bus drivers, light-rail operators and mechanics, voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to reject a contract offer extended by the transit agency and to authorize a strike if talks continue to stall.

The sticking point appears to be the union's request for additional hazard pay during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Ryan Timlin, president of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 1005.

Metro Transit had offered an additional $3 an hour for workers in pandemic hazard pay from March 21 to May 15, he said.

"We're still in the middle of a pandemic," Timlin said. "This is a slap in the face to our members who are essential workers on the front lines. They're working in high-risk situations."

In a statement, Metropolitan Council spokeswoman Terri Dresen said, "Metro Transit has provided a reasonable and responsible offer that balances the unprecedented fiscal pressures facing Metro Transit, with the value we place on our employees during this pandemic."

The council's $3.6 million one-year contract proposal includes a one-time payout averaging $1,500 per employee, a 5% raise for about a third of the workforce and access to healthcare benefits.

Union officials dispute these figures, saying the final offer only included a one-time payment of $825 for full-time workers and $600 for part-timers once the contract is ratified. Not all employees worked at the height of the pandemic, so some would not qualify for the hourly pay bump, they said.

Workers rejected the one-year pact by a 94% margin, said Timlin, who declined to release the exact tally.

Strike authorization doesn't necessarily mean workers will walk off the job — Timlin hopes the vote will spur additional negotiations. The workers' current contract expired Aug. 1. The last time the two sides met with a mediator from the state Bureau of Mediation Services was Aug. 27.

"They want a one-year deal, and we want a multiyear deal," Timlin said.

Three years ago, the union authorized a strike during the Super Bowl, but reached a deal before the event, averting a major disruption.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752