Drivers Protest as Metro Contract Negotiations Grind to Halt

Union members lined the north and east side of Metro's downtown headquarters this morning -- a prime visibility location for those taking the light rail to work -- to protest the breakdown in contract negotiations between Metro's leadership and members of the Transportation Workers Union Local 260.

At issue is how the Metro is planning to use money it has already earmarked for expansion of the light rail and adding more entry-level positions to the company, protesters said. The employees' contract expires at midnight tomorrow.

As buses and trains passed by, honking in solidarity, Union steward and transportation grievances representative Wayne Jackson said workers are most concerned with "givebacks" proposed by Metro leadership -- cuts in salaries and higher cost for benefits. "We don't want to give back things we already have," he said.

About 30 picketers waved signs with slogans like"The New Metro: 23 Vice Presidents and Counting" and "The New Metro Puts Image Before Safety."

Vanessa Ausley, another Union steward, said Metro is proposing cuts to routes in low-income areas, citing decreased ridership, which she says isn't true.

"We're only asking for what's fair."

"We want to prevent this from happening before it happens," Jackson said. Charles Davenport, vice president of the Local 260, said Metro is too focused on light rail expansion and not focused enough on its own employees, citing "unfair labor practices" such as cuts in health care benefits.

"Metro just got a $307 million federal grant to build the light rail. They have a budget set to give us money, but they're not."

Henry is a bus operator who was hesitant to give his last name to media, even at the insistence of union v.p. Davenport, who said, "Go ahead. We'll protect you."

Henry talked about the lack of respect with which operators are viewed, and the service they provide to the community.

"We wake up at 1 or 2 a.m. to get people to work at 5 a.m.," he said. "We jump out of our seats to help those in wheelchairs. We help those who are lost, the elderly. I jump out of my seat for people who need help. They may yell at us, cuss at us, but we still have to say thank you when they step off the bus."

Metro sent us a statement from President & CEO George Greanias via e-mail:

"We have been working for three months to reach an agreement with the union. Talks are still on-going, and we will not negotiate in the press. However, we are committed to reaching an agreement that is fair to everyone involved."

Click to the next page for more protest pics.

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