Sunday, Valley Metro bus drivers rejected a new contract offer from the City of Roanoke and took the first big step toward a strike.
The union that represents the drivers and the City of Roanoke, which owns Valley Metro, have been going back and forth over new contracts for 11 months.
Areas where they're having disagreements include pay raises for drivers, health insurance contributions, and leave of absence terms.
During a meeting Sunday, union members overwhelmingly rejected the city's latest offer and voted to authorize a strike. They say the vote does not mean a work stoppage is imminent, but opens up the possibility for one in the near future.
Leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1493 say the next step is to inform Valley Metro they have rejected the offer, then try to get a federal mediator involved to help both sides work out an agreement.
Union leaders say they and the city are not that far apart in the negotiations and are hopeful that mediation will result in a deal.
"We haven't had a strike here since I can remember," said Roger Brice, President of ATU Local 1493. "With the cooperation of the company and city leaders, I'm pretty sure we can get it ironed out."
Because the current contract expired in September 2011, the city and the union agreed to keep the terms of that contract in place until a new deal could be worked out. One of those provisions actually prohibits drivers from going on strike. Union leaders say if mediation fails, they can vote to terminate the extension and then could legally go on strike.
We spoke on the phone with Carl Palmer, General Manager of Valley Metro. He says the company had hoped the union would have approved their latest offer, but they will continue to negotiate with them in good faith.