Union strong, Metro Mobility drivers fight to save their jobs

In a 2015 survey, Metro Mobility customers were asked to name their favorite thing about riding the transportation service for people with disabilities and health issues. The most common response: their drivers.

About 100 of those drivers are now fighting for their jobs, as the Met Council, which oversees Metro Mobility, considers moving one of its core services to a new, non-union contractor.

Drivers and clients will raise concerns about the proposed change when it comes before the council’s Transportation Committee April 23, according to Teamsters Local 120, the union that represents drivers.

“Every day our members are picking up the same people, and now they could potentially lose that continuity,” Local 120 Secretary-Treasurer Bill Wedebrand said. “We feel as though there should be some more discussion on this.”

The drivers, employees of First Transit, shuttle people to and from employment, training and rehabilitation centers and other programs. Known as “agency service,” it’s mandated by federal and state laws.

But increasing demand for Metro Mobility rides is straining the Met Council’s finances. Metro Transit hiked bus and light-rail fares last year, and the council still projects a shortfall of $86 million in its 2020-21 transportation budget.

Under pressure to cut costs, the Met Council appears poised to move forward with Maple Grove-based Transit Team’s $31.8 million, five-year proposal covering agency services after the current contract with First Transit expires Sept. 30.

Transit Team delivered a cheaper proposal than First Transit, but Wedebrand warned that disrupting the relationship between Metro Mobility drivers and the vulnerable adults they serve will come at a cost.

“Most of these drivers have being doing this job for many years, and they do it for the right reasons,” Wedebrand said. “They don’t make a lot of money, but they do it to help people who are vulnerable. And these vulnerable adults know them, trust them.”

Wedebrand said Local 120 intends to push hard for current drivers to keep their jobs – and their union contract – if the agency service contract moves to Transit Team. It’s a courtesy Metro Mobility drivers, who received a 95-percent satisfaction rating in the 2015 customer survey, have earned.

Show support for Metro Mobility agency drivers by turning out for the April 23 Transportation Committee meeting, which begins at 4 p.m. at 390 Robert St. N., St. Paul.

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