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Atlanta Bus Drivers’ Sick-Out Has Officials Worried About the Big Game

Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium towers over the adjacent Westside neighborhoods of Atlanta. (Credit: AP Photo/David Goldman)

Bus drivers in Atlanta have called in sick for two days in a row as they express displeasure with a new contract negotiated between MARTA and its union, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The disruptions have delayed numerous bus routes and stoked fears that MARTA will not be operating at full capacity for Sunday’s Super Bowl game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

MARTA told the AJC that it plans to seek a court injunction that would force Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732 to force its employees back to work. Courts are closed Tuesday because of inclement weather, but MARTA spokeswoman Stephany Fisher said that the petition would be filed as soon as the court opens Wednesday.

About 80 bus drivers participated in the unofficial sickout on Monday, and 73 did so on Tuesday.

ATU 732 and MARTA tentatively agreed to a new contract Saturday, which would give employees a raise of 3 percent a year for three years, plus an additional 25 cents/hour to all employees with at least 20 years of service, and an immediate raise of 50 cents/hour for bus and rail operators and $1 an hour for mechanics.

The agreement also provides for a $1,000 ratification payment for full-time employees and $500 for part-timers if the agreement is ratified by the union’s membership and MARTA’s board of directors by March 1.

AJC reports that the union told MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker that leadership is working to get employees back to work, and that the union has promised both MARTA and the NFL that it wouldn’t disrupt operations during the Super Bowl. That said, the Carolina Planning Journal, published by the Department of City and Regional Planning at UNC Chapel Hill, reported that typical Super Bowls strain transit systems up to two weeks leading up to the big game.

It’s expected that tens of thousands of people will ride MARTA rail to the game or to Super Bowl parties.

“I am truly disappointed. We are working hard to make sure that this afternoon’s rush hour and all the rush hours going forward are completely staffed,” Parker said at a conference Monday.

As the AJC points out, this wouldn’t be the first time that transit workers have used the Super Bowl as negotiating leverage. Last year, Twin Cities bus drivers threatened to strike during the Super Bowl in Minneapolis if Metro Transit didn’t take measures to protect drivers against assault, the Pioneer Press reported. In mid-December, with more than two months to go before the big game, the union and Metro Transit agreed to a contract, WCCO reported at the time.

Rachel Kaufman is Next City's senior editor, responsible for our daily journalism. She was a longtime Next City freelance writer and editor before coming on staff full-time. She has covered transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and other outlets.

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Tags: transit agenciesbusesatlantasports