ATU Protests Injection of Racism into S.L. Contract Talks

ST. LOUIS (PAI)–As if St. Louis didn’t suffer enough racial tension already, due to the police shooting of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown, management of the city’s Metro system has injected racism into contract talks with its top union.


That, and a subsequent gag order management wants to impose on the workers – to prevent them from telling bus and subway riders what’s going on – drew outrage from the Amalgamated Transit Union and ATU St. Louis Local 788.


Management’s attitudes broke into the open at a July bargaining session between the two sides, ATU President Larry Hanley said in an August 22 letter to Metro CEO John Nations.  The two sides are trying to reach a contract to replace the old one that expired six years ago.


Then, an unnamed member of Nations’ bargaining team injected race and class into the already tense talks, which had also foundered over Nations’ demands for pension givebacks.


“There is no excuse or justification for a senior member of your negotiating team to distribute a recipe for Oreo Cookies to the union’s officers” at that bargaining session, Hanley said. Management also insinuated it would offer better contract terms to the mostly white maintenance workers than it would offer to the mostly minority bus and subway operators.


““We are appalled by this blatant insult and transparent race baiting,” Hanley wrote. “Such arrogance has no place at the bargaining table or anywhere, especially in today’s climate of unrest,” he said, referring to the racial tensions from the Brown shooting.  “We hope you share our view that the Metro employee who did this should not continue in your employ.”


Management’s response wasn’t to Hanley, but to Local 788 President Michael Breihan, after the local members started distributing union literature about the foundering talks – and Nations’ $250,000 salary – at bus and subway stops.  Nations pulled an order out of the Metro employee handbook banning distribution of any literature without prior management approval.


“As the agency has not granted the Amalgamated Transit Union any authorization to distribute literature as per the policy, please be advised that any person observed doing so will be removed from company property,” Nations warned.  And if a bus or subway operator distributes the literature during duty hours, he or she “will be subject to discipline.”


The threats won’t stop ATU, Hanley told Nations.  He sent copies of his letter to Local 788, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, both Democrats.


“With continuing assistance by the international, and outreach by local officers and volunteers,  thousands of Local 788 members and allies in the community have come together in support of the demand for a fair contract and economic justice.  At community meetings, rallies, on the street and in homes, we will undertake an unprecedented campaign to ensure our members and the public better understand the issues and reasons this fight has lasted so long.”