Both sides are busy preparing their initial volleys because the current Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 contract -- which affects about 8,000 workers who drive the system's buses and trains, manage and clean stations, and repair escalators -- expires at the end of June.
Metro officials appear to have a lengthy wish list. The board of directors has said that the workers shouldn't expect pay raises after getting court-ordered bumps this past year.
Ballooning pension costs are a clear target, too, as the chief financial officer has forecasted a 32 percent jump in the agency's overall pension costs in the next fiscal year.
And the agency has said it plans to seek limits on the number of hours that employees can log to reduce on-the-job fatigue.
Each item alone could cause a fight, considering the agency lost a lengthy court battle just months ago to avoid paying raises.
"Every round of negotiations, the authority comes to the table asking for members to give back," said ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter. "We're not about to go backwards. That's not what unions try to do for their workers."
Negotiations must begin by April, but both sides hope to begin them within the next four to six weeks. Complicating matters, the agency's next budget that allocates the money for wages and pensions also must be finalized by June 30.
"We look forward to a productive exchange with Local 689 to find common ground," Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
The last round was drawn-out and expensive. When negotiations broke down in 2008, the agency and union asked arbitrators to settle it. But when Metro didn't agree with the decision, it appealed it. In July 2011, a federal judge ruled in favor of the union. With about $1.5 million in legal fees already spent, Metro agreed to pay 3 percent raises for three consecutive years.
The delay was rough on the union workers even though they eventually won more than $96 million. "Obviously we don't want to be placed in the same position again," Jeter said.
The two sides also need to agree on the length of the contract. Most contracts have run for three years, but the current one is four years long.