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MARTA bus driver strike prompts questions about Super Bowl LIII readiness

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The transit agency is taking its union employees to court to prevent further protests and disruptions

Two MARTA buses passing each other.
Bus travel routes have been hindered by MARTA worker protests this week.
James Willamor

As hundreds of thousands of tourists sweep into Atlanta in advance of Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII, questions have again cropped up about the city’s ability to smoothly move the masses.

On Monday, dozens of MARTA bus drivers called in sick amidst a labor dispute with the transit agency, disrupting morning bus routes.

Those employees were part of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732, which had been negotiating with MARTA officials for a new contract that could include higher pay and other benefits.

An official release from MARTA explained the transit agency’s side:

“Despite an all-day positive collective bargaining session that concluded late Saturday night and resulted in a signed agreement between MARTA and ATU Local 732 leadership over wages, benefits, and parity pay adjustments for bus and rail operators, mechanics, and other skilled technicians, approximately 80 union employees staged a sick-out this morning impacting MARTA bus service.”

That same evening, MARTA officials revealed they would take legal action to ensure the protesting stops.

MARTA also notified union leadership that it will “file a court injunction to end the slow-down and has demanded that ATU leadership take immediate action disavowing the sick-out and demand that union members return to work,” the release continued.

Thankfully, a tentative agreement has been reached between MARTA and the ATU Local 732 leadership that, if ratified by March, would give union employees a 3 percent pay bump for each of the next three years.

The agreement also calls for MARTA to pay an additional 25 cents per hour premium to all employees with 20-plus years experience, while implementing a parity pay adjustment of 50 cents per hour for rail and bus operators and $1 per hour for mechanics and other technicians.

On top of that, full-time union workers would receive a one-time $1,000 “ratification payment,” while part-timers would claim $500.

The pay disputes aren’t the only drama to have plagued the transit agency so close to Super Sunday.

Earlier this month, a MARTA train derailed, causing delays for people traveling to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Nevertheless, MARTA is still touting its services as the best way to traverse the city during Super Bowl weekend.

With an expected 1 million extra people crammed into the city—and onto its highways—the transit authority might be right. Let’s hope the labor dispute ends before Sunday.