Workers turn out for a say in Metro Transit’s safety plan

Transit workers packed the Feb. 8 Met Council meeting.

Metro Transit bus and train operators packed Met Council chambers Feb. 8, demanding input into the agency’s plan to improve safety across the local transit system.

Council members were poised to approve that plan, finalized by Metro Transit in December, but they voted 7-5 to postpone any action for at least one week, giving management and union representatives time to chart a course for better collaboration moving forward.

“This huge turnout really proves an interest from workers to tell their side of the story,” Council Member Abdirahman Muse said.

The operators’ union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, was not involved in drafting the safety plan despite a new federal requirement – part of the bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021 – that transit systems create labor-management safety committees to sign off on their plans.

Union leaders and council members acknowledged the newly formed committee got off to a “rocky start” last year, and it put the process at risk of missing a Dec. 31 deadline with the Federal Transit Administration.

ATU representatives offered to approach the FTA jointly with Metro Transit and request an extension, Local 1005 member Ron Kammueller said, so that frontline workers could have a voice in the safety plan.

“They declined and went to the FTA behind our backs unilaterally,” Kammueller said before the council meeting. “They claim the FTA granted them approval to mark this plan as approved by the (labor-management) committee. We’re here to say the process needs to back up and keep labor and management on equal footing.”

Council Member Deb Barber, chair of the council’s transportation committee, said the agency needed a plan on the books by the deadline to avoid risking federal funding. But she also emphasized that the plan is a “living document” and, at minimum, must be updated annually with input from the labor-management committee.

“Our goal and hope is that this is a continually updated document done in collaboration between Metro Transit and ATU,” Barber said. “This isn’t meant to be the end of the story; this is the start.”

Getting buy-in from the union won’t be an issue moving forward, Local 1005 Recording Secretary Miriam Wynn said. Safety is a growing concern among transit workers, over 70 of whom showed up for the Wednesday-night meeting in downtown St. Paul.

“We have facility workers who are just in the line of duty, trying to clean the platforms, and they are being held at gunpoint, being held at knifepoint,” she said. “It’s really bad out there.”

The FTA issued a special directive to Metro Transit last October in response to increasing safety risks faced by transit workers. The directive noted that Metro Transit is one of nine agencies nationwide that accounted for 79% of all transit worker assaults reported to the National Transit Database between 2016 and 2021, “with no clear downward trend in assaults” over that period.

But the safety plan Metro Transit produced last year lacked the sweeping changes needed to stem those increasing risks to workers and riders, Wynn said.

That’s why union members need a seat at the table.

“It is our lives, we’re the frontline workers, and there are things that should be in this plan – like ways to mitigate assaults, there’s nothing in there that speaks to that,” Wynn said. “Not even to speak to the drug use on the trains and on the buses that are affecting our operators? Those are the things that we want to see in this plan.”

Met Council Member Raymond Zeran, former political director of the Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 292, said he hoped the urgency ATU members brought to the council meeting carries over to the labor-management committee’s efforts to settle on a safety plan “that everyone’s buying into.”

“Pack your lunch,” he told union members. “Get this done.”

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