Metro Transit workers seeking a new contract held a rally Monday just before union representatives met with transit agency officials for a one-day negotiating session.
The rally outside the state Bureau of Mediation Services came as the two sides met at the bargaining table for the first time since September, when an overwhelming majority of 2,400 organized Metro Transit employees — including bus drivers, light-rail operators and mechanics — rejected a contract offer and authorized a strike if talks fizzled.
The two sides concluded their talks about 4 p.m. Monday but agreed to meet again on Nov. 13. The last time the two sides met face-to-face with a mediator was Aug. 27. The current contract expired Aug. 1.
The negotiations come as ridership on trains and buses has fallen by 65%, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Metro Transit's $3.6 million one-year contract proposal included a one-time "hero" payment averaging $1,500 per member, which equates to a 2.5% increase in wages over the 12-month period of the contract, according to the Metropolitan Council.
Under that proposal, about one-third of the workforce would receive a 5% increase or more during the contract period running from Aug. 1, 2020, to July 31, 2021. Members also would get access to health care benefits.
The union said the one-time payout would be lower, $825 for full-time workers and $600 for part-timers, once the contract is ratified. Nearly 94% of the members of Amalgamated Transit Union 1005, which represents Metro Transit workers, voted against the deal.
Metro Transit called the offer "reasonable and responsible" and said it balanced the agency's "fiscal pressures … with the value we place on our employees during this pandemic." The agency also offered an additional $3 per hour for workers in pandemic hazard pay from March 21 to May 15.
With a major loss in revenue, Metro Transit is relying on one-time federal CARES Act funding to keep transit services on the streets and workers employed, Met Council spokeswoman Terri Dresen said. Salaries and benefits make up more than 70% of bus and rail operation costs and represent the largest use of CARES Act funding, she said.
Following Monday's talks, Dresen issued a statement saying that Metro Transit employees were the agency's "most important asset" and essential to providing services to those who depend on transit.
"We look forward to continued negotiations and are committed to providing a contract proposal that is respectful of our employees, as well as fair and responsible given today's financial and economic realities," the Metro Transit statement said.