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What started as a holiday recognition lunch Friday for Metro Bus and Rail employees turned into an ugly standoff between labor and management of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

Transit police physically blocked Vincent G. Crehan, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, from entering the event at Metro’s Babcock Street garage, prompting a flare-up of the long-simmering labor dispute between the NFTA and the union representing bus and subway drivers and mechanics.

“For them to lock us out like that was shameful,” Crehan said. “I’ve never been treated like that.”

But authority spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer said Crehan – a nonvoting member of the NFTA board of commissioners – triggered Friday’s action by declaring Thursday that a “verbal or physical” confrontation could occur at any of the Friday service recognition luncheons planned for NFTA facilities.

“Based on his warnings,” Hartmayer said, “we stationed police officers at each facility to protect the health and welfare of our ATU workers enjoying the luncheon today. It was our understanding that individuals with Commissioner Crehan were not working today and thus had no work-related business to be in the facility.

“We alerted our police department so there would be no confrontation,” he said.

Crehan noted he normally moves freely about NFTA facilities by virtue of his posts as ATU president and authority commissioner. But Hartmayer said his previous warning raised concerns.

“Not today,” he said of Crehan’s normal privileges. “There was no legitimate business to be conducted today and based on his prior warning that there could be verbal or physical confrontations.”

Crehan, meanwhile, said his remarks Thursday did not pertain to him but raised the possibility for members who might express their frustration of more than four years without a contract and more than five years without a raise. He said he wanted to personally urge his members to reject the lunch honoring unionized employees.

Tensions between the two sides show no evidence of subsiding after years of negotiations and court cases have failed to resolve the stalemate. The union has purchased advertising on Metro Bus shelters outside NFTA headquarters in the downtown bus station to label the authority “unfair” in its bargaining, and even picketed the homes of Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel and Chairman Howard A. Zemsky.

Crehan said after unsuccessful court action seeking binding arbitration, the union is now considering submitting the dispute to the Public Employees Relations Board for mediation and fact-finding in preparation for further negotiation.

Hartmayer also said the authority is willing to resume bargaining at any time.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com