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Source: US Amalgamated Transit Union

Metro Transit workers seeking a new contract rallied Monday morning in St. Paul ahead of a one-day negotiating session with the transit agency.

The rally outside the state Bureau of Mediation Services came as the two sides returned to the bargaining table for the first time since an overwhelming majority of 2,400 organized Metro Transit employees — including bus drivers, light-rail operators and mechanics — rejected a contract offer in September and authorized a strike if talks fizzled.

Nearly 94% of the members of Amalgamated Transit Union 1005, which represents Metro Transit workers, voted against the deal.

Metro Transit’s $3.6 million one-year contract proposal included a one-time “hero” payment averaging $1,500 per member, which equates to a 2.5% increase in wages over the 12-month period of the contract, according to the Metropolitan Council.

Under that proposal, about a third of the workforce would receive a 5% increase or more during the contract period running from Aug. 1, 2020 to July 31, 2021. Members also would get access to healthcare benefits.

The union said the one-time payout would be lower, $825 for full-time workers and $600 for part-timers, once the contract is ratified.

Metro Transit also offered an additional $3 per hour for workers in pandemic hazard pay from March 21 to May 15.

“Metro Transit has provided a reasonable and responsible offer that balances the unprecedented fiscal pressures facing Metro Transit, with the value we place on our employees during this pandemic,” Met Council spokeswoman Terri Dresen said in a statement.

The negotiations come as ridership on trains and buses has fallen by 65%, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With a major loss in revenue, Metro Transit is relying on one-time federal CARES Act funding to keep transit services on the streets and workers employed, Dresen said. Salaries and benefits make up more than 70% of bus and rail operation costs and represent the largest use of CARES Act funding, she said.

The last time the two sides met face-to-face with a mediator was Aug. 27. The current contract expired Aug. 1.