Twin Cities bus and train drivers are poised to go on strike – and they've timed their possible walkout for the days leading up to the Super Bowl.
Metro Transit workers on Monday overwhelmingly rejected what the Metropolitan Council has called its final contract offer, the union announced.
Ninety-three percent of those voting rejected the contract and authorized their negotiating committee to call a strike, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 said.
The Local 1005's President Mark Lawson told GoMN in an email there's still time to avoid a strike, and said the negotiating committee hopes to schedule new contract talks soon.
More than 100,000 visitors are expected in the Twin Cities during the days leading up to Super Bowl LII, which is at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4.
Below is our story from earlier Monday, before the results of the vote were announced:
Why Metro Transit workers might strike during Super Bowl LII festivities
Metro Transit workers are deciding whether to approve a new contract, or authorize a strike that would happen during Super Bowl LII.
Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 (ATU) – which includes nearly 2,500 Metro Transit bus drivers, light rail operators, technicians and other staff – have been negotiating a new contract with the Metropolitan Council (which is in charge of Metro Transit) since May, but haven't been able to come to terms.
On Sunday, the union discussed what Metro Transit called the "final offer" and started taking a vote. That voting continues until 4 p.m. Monday.
The union's executive board has recommended that its members vote no on the contract, which would reject the offer and authorize the negotiating committee to call a strike, Local 1005 President Mark Lawson told GoMN.
If authorized, the union would plan to strike at the end of January, during the 10 days of Super Bowl festivities in the Twin Cities.
This could really mess up how Minnesotans – and the 125,000 expected visitors – get around during that time.
Lawson said the hope is this will get Metro Transit to sit back down at the bargaining table to try to work on a deal before the strike.
In a statement to GoMN Kate Brickman, communications director for the Metropolitan Council, said:
“We value the work of ATU members and their contribution to our region. We are currently negotiating in good faith through a mediator and are confident we’ll reach an agreement satisfactory to both parties.”
The results of the union's vote will be posted on the ATU Local 1005 website Monday night, Lawson said.
What's in the contract?
Lawson says these ongoing negotiations are about more than money – it's about driver safety.
"Bus drivers are getting attacked, and they don't seem very concerned about it," Lawson told the Star Tribune.
And in an interview with KARE 11, he said the contract proposal "does not address that at all," noting he's been punched twice in his 12-year career.
Lawson has called assaults on drivers a "common occurrence." In fact, the union told the Star Tribune last year that dozens of Metro Transit bus drivers are assaulted ever year, ranging from being punched, to spit on, to verbally abused.
Attacks on transit workers is also a national problem, according to the national ATU. Bus drivers tend to have a higher rate of injury and illness compared to the national average, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says.
Most of these injuries are caused by crashes. They made up 42 percent of injuries and illnesses reported among state and local bus drivers in 2013, the agency found in a later report.
Meanwhile, violent events and other injuries caused by people or animals accounted for 5 percent of bus driver injuries in 2013.
Even though violent events don't make up a lot of the injuries bus drivers face, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the incidents tend to be more severe, They can also lead to the victim taking more time off of work.
"The severity of these cases suggests that they are possible areas of focus to help keep transit workers safe and healthy and on the road," the agency said.
The last time the union went on strike was in 2004. It lasted about six weeks, the Star Tribune says.