Within hours of receiving a letter from ATU International President Larry Hanley demanding that Metro management end “race baiting at the bargaining table,” Metro issued a gag order to prevent workers from talking with the people of St. Louis.
The letter to Metro CEO John Nations was in response to an incident at a July negotiating session during which a member of Metro’s bargaining team distributed what he called “a gift” to Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 788: a recipe for Oreo Cookies. The bizarre event followed a series of attempts by the agency to “drive a wedge between the mostly white maintenance employees and its drivers and other members,” “incite discord among our members,” and “splinter our local,” the letter said.
“We are appalled by this blatant insult and transparent race baiting,” Hanley wrote. “Such arrogance has no place at the bargaining table or anywhere, especially in today’s climate of unrest. We hope you share our view that the Metro employee who did this should not continue in your employ.”
Metro transit workers began leafleting riders on Monday to highlight Nations’ poor management of the system and treatment of riders and workers. Nations, they say, promised riders and workers when he was appointed to build a transit system that worked for all. Instead, he has raised fares, refused to give workers a contract for three and a half years or a raise for more than six years, and is threatening their retirement security. All the while, Nations is lining his pockets with a $250,000 salary.
After receiving Hanley’s letter, Metro Director of Labor Relations Charles Priscu delivered a letter and bulletin banning workers from leafleting riders at Metro property to ATU Local 788 President Michael Breihan and posted it in all METRO bus garages, rail yards, and other worksites.
Hanley says the abrupt enforcement of a previously unenforced policy suggests intimidation.
“This is a serious violation of our First Amendment rights at a time when our members and riders in St. Louis need it the least,” said Hanley. “We will not be intimidated or divided. Instead, we will be back at stations to tell our riders the truth about John Nations and his role in fueling the economic injustice that holds great cities like this back.”
Metro workers plan to return to 14th Street/Civic Center station to leaflet riders tomorrow.