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Metro Union Threatens No Confidence Vote

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The union representing Metro employees says it intends to take a no confidence vote in General Manager Dwight Ferrell. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 627 are at odds over contract negotiations.

Union President Troy Miller told SORTA board members during their monthly meeting Tuesday that such a vote is forthcoming.

"December 3, we're making a vote," says Miller. "The vote will be a no confidence vote for General Manager."

"Nine times we have met," Miller says. "To this day (Ferrell's) not showed up yet. We fired a police chief for not being in the city, why do we have a general manager who's not here?"

Miller is referring to contract negotiations. The union has been working without a contract since Oct. 31.

Ferrell says he hasn't attended the meetings because the negotiating team is authorized to act on his behalf.

"But I have met with the ATU president specifically to talk about what the issues were, why we made the proposal that we did," Ferrell says. "He asked for a proposal and we gave it to him. My negotiating team is empowered to make a deal."

The union has requested a mediator be brought into the process.

Contract Negotiations

Both sides agree that the sticking point is a plan to add a new van service. Ferrell points out service needs are changing. Metro spokeswoman Sallie Hilvers says the van service would allow smaller vehicles to serve less utilized routes, while larger buses serve busier ones.

The union is concerned the van routes will pay less and reduce the number of regular route jobs. Miller told WVXU Monday the proposed service would "take 30 percent of the (bus) routes and replace them with vans at a cheaper wage." He also complains there's been a lack of communication about the plan's details.

Healthcare Concerns

While the sides try to work out a new contract, a clause in the current contract has employees worried about their healthcare costs. Union members will see their health insurance rates temporarily increase in December.

Miller says rates will increase in December to $400 per month (family) or $150 per month (single). A copy of the contract given to WVXU says current rates are $176.80 (family) and $64.30 (single).

That increase is "drastic" according to Operator Angelique Watson, a 15-year veteran.

"That's way too much in the month of December," Watson says. "It's the holidays. That's way too much and I don't understand why it's being changed so drastically. To me, that's drastic."

Metro says the increase is required under the contract. The union disagrees with Metro's interpretation.

Here's the sentence, as provided to WVXU by Metro:

Metro's maximum contribution rates towards monthly premiums shall not exceed those being paid as of December 31, 2015.

Hilvers says "We do have a proposal that is in discussions right now as part of the negotiations that would bring those premiums back closer to what employees are currently paying as soon as a new contract is executed."

During Tuesday's meeting, Ferrell said it appears decreasing ridership appears to have leveled off. However, he says growth isn't keeping up with expenses. He says SORTA must change the way it does business.

Could Employees Strike?

Hilvers says the ATU represents nearly 700 employees.

Miller says the idea of a strike will be discussed during the Dec. 3 meeting. He says the union would follow state law on any work stoppage, which means it would have to give proper notice. The union isn't allowed to do a "wildcat" strike, meaning workers cannot simply fail to show up for work en masse without notice.

Hilvers says there have only been five work stoppages since Metro became a public service in 1973. The last was a 12-day strike in February, 1988.

Copyright 2021 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.