Dozens of MARTA bus drivers have called in sick this week, apparently to express their displeasure at a tentative labor agreement. The “sick-out” has disrupted bus service.

UPDATE: MARTA goes to court to end bus driver sickout

MARTA went to court Wednesday to force some bus operators to get back to work as labor unrest disrupted its bus service for a third day. 

The agency asked a Fulton County judge to order Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732 to disavow and end a labor protest that has seen scores of bus drivers call in sick. It also sought damages from the union and its leaders. 

In court documents, the agency cited evidence — including a text message to employees — that union leaders were at least aware of and perhaps encouraged the sickout. 

The ATU has denied any involvement in the sickout, which began Monday and continued Tuesday and Wednesday. 

According to MARTA’s petition, about 130 bus operators called in sick Monday. On Tuesday, 80 called in sick. And on Wednesday morning the agency said 41 drivers called in. 

MARTA has 1,199 full-time bus operators and 49 part-timers. 

MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker told state lawmakers Wednesday that disruptions to bus service caused by ongoing labor unrest should have little impact on the Super Bowl this weekend. And he said the diminishing number of call-ins suggests the sickout is running out of steam. 

But it’s unclear how long the unrest will continue. 

“I’m not going to stand in front of you now and predict what tomorrow will look like,” Parker the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Overview Committee — the legislative panel that oversees the agency. “But the trend is headed in the right direction.” 

MARTA has been negotiating a new contract with the union, and at times the ATU has expressed frustration with the progress of those negotiations. But the parties reached a tentative agreement Saturday. 

The tentative labor agreement calls for annual raises of 3 percent for three years. It would pay an additional 25 cents an hour in longevity premiums to all employees with at least 20 years of service. And it would implement an immediate “parity pay adjustment” of 50 cents an hour for all bus and rail operators, with mechanics and other skilled technicians getting $1 an hour. 

The agreement also provides for a $1,000 retro/ratification payment for full-time employees and $500 for part-time employees if the agreement is ratified by March 1. The union is set to vote on the contract Saturday. 

The labor unrest comes as Atlanta plays host to more than 1 million visitors for this weekend’s Super Bowl. MARTA rail service — a key transportation link for visitors — has not been affected. But many residents who rely on buses to get to work may have been affected. 

Union officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In an interview Tuesday, an ATU official denied the agency had authorized the sickout. 

“It’s not a sickout by us,” Britt Dunams, the vice president for maintenance for Local 732, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “ATU has not sanctioned or approved any sickouts.” 

In court documents, MARTA cited a text from an employee to other employees that it had obtained. The text said “that ATU asked MARTA employees to do a ‘lose out’ ” on Monday because MARTA was trying to mistreat its employees. The text advised employees to contact a union vice president for further information. 

MARTA also cited a social media post calling for “no work” on Super Bowl weekend. 

On Wednesday, Parker told lawmakers he thinks the labor unrest “will have minimal or no impact on the Super Bowl.” 

State Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller wondered whether there will be consequences for drivers who don’t show up for work. 

“If there’s no consequences, we’re going to be in this situation again the next time we have a big event,” Miller said. 

Parker said MARTA has begun an investigation, which he called “the first step in holding people accountable.” 

“People need to be held responsible,” he said, “and there’s got to be consequences for those actions.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.