ST. LOUIS — Metro Transit buses have been experiencing delays throughout the St. Louis area over the past few days amid a contract dispute.

On Thursday, more than 100 employees called in sick to Metro Transit. This happened after the union got a 2% pay increase offer from Bi-State Wednesday night.

“We don’t have anything to do with it,” said Reginald Howard, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788. “We’re aware of it happening, but we can’t control it because we didn’t start it.”

“We’re down as far service is concerned on Metro Transit,” said Taulby Roach, the president and CEO of Bi-State Development. “But look, we’re working really hard to try and please the public and get service out there. These are valuable operators. We intend on negotiations, and we hope we work it out soon.”

The union is seeking pay increases to keep up with inflation of 10% in the first year and 8% in the second and third years of the contract. Bi-State is reported to have begun with an offer of 1% for three years.

The union said they’re operating at least 100 people short of adequate staffing levels.

“It’s very emotional because the contract has expired,” said Howard. “The operators and mechanics and clerical and everybody are accustomed to getting a raise July 1. The contract ended June 30, and we’re nowhere. We’re not even at the table.”

Roach said it’s less of a staffing burden on MetroLink, which is running on time.

“So right now, we’re down 14% due to labor action. So that means we’re running a little late, somewhere between an hour to 45 minutes on a Metro bus,” said Roach. “We ask for the public’s patience, but we’re going to do our best to get service out on at least a minimum basis.”

Bus ridership has been reportedly down since COVID, and is not yet back to pre-COVID levels.

“We’re trying to inch our way back and getting the ridership back up,” said Howard. “But you got to provide the service. You have to be fair to these operators that are moving the city. They’re moving to the city. So, you got to be fair.”

Roach said did say that operators deserve more compensation.

“But we need to negotiate that within the bounds of economic realities, so there’s always that tension in the negotiations,” Roach explained. “We want to do our best. We want to keep our employees happy.”

Both sides are set to sit down with a federal mediator on August 18 and 19.