Akron-based branch of union under investigation amid threats of a METRO RTA worker strike.

By Rachel Gross

METRO RTA in downtown Akron. Photo courtesy of Molly Becker

Akron’s branch of the Transport Workers Union of America is under investigation by the national union for not giving an appropriate notice required to authorize a strike.

The local union had previously announced they would strike beginning November 15 based on a failure to meet contract negotiations with Akron METRO Regional Transport Authority.

On Friday the national union announced they had stepped in and placed the possibility strike on hold while the local chapter will be investigated.

Representatives from the national TWU came to Akron over claims that that the local union president who announced a strike was no longer employed by the METRO RTA.

Since the president was the one who issued the strike notice to METRO, the strike notice was then in violate of the TWU’s constitution.

“The members started calling, reaching out to us, and asking what was going on,” said Theotis James from TWU.

James, who is from the national branch of the union, was named the administrator of TWU Local 1 while the local branch is in what is called “temporary receivership”.

Akron METRO RTA’s Molly Becker akronmetro.org

This means that the national union will be conducting the daily affairs of the local branch and hopes to meet with METRO to smooth out the contract negotiations.

James said that while in town, the national union hopes to end the contract negotiations with METRO.

Akron’s branch of TWU has been in contract negotiations with METRO for over a year since the previous contract expired in July of 2020.

The two have not agreed a new contract since.

METRO and TWU held a meeting on November 3 that ended without a tentative agreement, according to METRO’s director of public relations Molly Becker.

“We’ve asked the TWU to take our final proposal to their membership to take a vote on it,” Becker said. “We’re hopeful that the membership will accept and ratify.”

A strike is not completely off the table for METRO workers despite the investigation.

“A strike may prove to be necessary down the road, but there may be other options as well,” said Willie Brown, the director of the international union’s transit division.

James says since the contract is still not settled, they have the option to strike as a last resort.

“Nobody wants to strike, you know,” James said. “Sometimes you have to strike, you have to fight, and it does work out.”

All of METRO’s 239 bus drivers are members of the TWU. Becker also said that vehicle service employees, detailers, and customer care workers are also part of the union.

If the union did strike, it would likely mean there would be a stoppage of service at first while METRO regroups and finds other bus drivers to drive the 29 local routes across Summit County.

“People would have to find alternative transportation initially,” Becker said. “We’re asking them out of abundance of caution to just be prepared to make those alternative plans, just in case they need them.”

METRO services 4 thousand to 5 thousand riders a day, including Akron Public School students.

METRO bus at library stop. Courtesy of Molly Becker

Mark Williamson, the Marketing Communications Director of APS, wrote in an email that “[the district] does not have an alternative for them if Metro strikes.”

Williamson said while APS provides yellow-bus transportation to K-8 students, 9-12 must find their own way to school.

APS Superintendent Christine Fowler Mack wrote online that they are reviewing remote instructional options for these students if they cannot make it to school.

“Those high schoolers will also have to find alternative transportation options during that time,” said Becker. “It really will impact them as well if there is disruption to service.”

James said the union plans to meet with METRO face-to-face to “see if we can try to work this thing out amicably.”

“Strike is a last resort, but we still have that tool in the toolbox,” James said.

Becker says they’re hopeful they will get through negotiations without a strike.

“We obviously don’t want to have a stoppage of service at all,” she said. “We’re very hopeful that we’re going to have a fair and equitable contract for all the parties involved.”