Metra labor dispute boils over with strike rumblings, but agency says riders shouldn't worry
Despite warnings by labor leaders that a strike by numerous Metra workers could be imminent, the commuter railroad said "no impact on service" is expected as negotiations continue.
A contract dispute between Metra and a coalition representing nine unions boiled over Friday when employees rallied outside the agency's Chicago headquarters as the board was meeting.
Inside, "the hardworking men and women of Metra deserve far better," Transportation Communications Union National Vice President Matt Hollis told board directors. "Metra is headed for a disaster based on the recent bargaining position" of management,
Workers, including conductors, technicians and janitorial staff, haven't had a raise since 2018, officials said.
Metra said in a statement Tuesday that the railroad "greatly values the skilled, professional union employees who safely, effectively, and efficiently operate our system no matter the challenges they face.
"It is to their credit that they kept Metra running through the lows of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is no question they will play an indispensable role in our rebound and recovery."
The Transportation Communications Union intended to reject Metra's move for contract arbitration, and "that means we're headed for a strike and every union in our coalition has begun the process of preparing members for that reality," Hollis said.
Outstanding issues include health benefits and wages, with a sore point being Executive Director Jim Derwinski's recent salary increase of 21%, Hollis noted. "What about the workers who are the backbone of Metra?" he said.
Metra countered that its "goal has always been to reach an agreement on contracts that fairly compensate these workers while respecting the needs of the customers and taxpayers who fully fund our nonprofit agency."
Metra has reached agreements with two of its 14 unions and is using federal mediation to resolve contracts with the other 12. The agency could not comment on specific negotiations, spokesman Michael Gillis said.
The agency stressed "riders should not be concerned" about service disruptions, saying "Metra is committed to providing safe and reliable service to the region we serve."
Union members protesting outside Metra last Friday were joined by Democratic U.S. Reps. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia of Chicago and Marie Newman of LaGrange.
Garcia said in a tweet that he had expected Metra to use recent COVID-19 relief funds "to support their workers. Sadly, that did not happen. I came out to stand up in solidarity with Metra union members, to urge the board of directors to do the right thing and negotiate a new, fair contract."