With the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) a ‘no show’ at today’s agreed-upon negotiation session, TriMet has sent its proposal to them and, as committed, posted it on the agency’s external website, trimet.org/newcontract.
“We are extremely disappointed that the ATU did not show up at today’s negotiation,” said Randy Stedman, TriMet Executive Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources. “It’s critical to begin the process to resolve these issues on behalf of our employees and address the unsustainable benefits that impacts our ability to restore service to our riders. That’s why we sent our proposal to the ATU today so it could start the 150-day clock for negotiations as required by state statute.”
In his Nov. 30 letter to the ATU, Stedman reiterated that the ATU demanded to bargain on September 25 and agreed to three sessions: “Only after negotiation sessions were mutually agreed upon did the ATU for the first time on November 19 raise an issue regarding the applicability of the Public Meetings Law.” Stedman further added that, “From our perspective, the artificial delay imposed by the ATU, if continued, would constitute bad faith bargaining. Moreover, any delay is a disservice to ATU members and our employees.”
Increased costs to union employees
The current contract expires today, and as allowed under state law – ORS 243.712(2) (d) – the agency will not pay wage increases and the increased costs of health care during the pendency of the contract negotiations. The next wage increase was to take effect on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. Union members will pay health care increases, which average 9.25 percent for the preferred provider plan and 6.25 percent for Kaiser. This means that union members will be paying more per month for their health care than non-union employees who pay 6 percent of premium costs.
The agency’s top issue for the next contract is to reduce the costs of one of the richest health care benefits in the public transit industry. The current contract resulted in modest changes to health care benefits, but the costs remain unsustainable and keep the agency at risk to continue service cuts and fare increases to balance its budget. TriMet’s proposal related to health care calls for moving the current preferred provider plan from a 90/10 share to an 80/20 plan that includes employee’s paying six percent of the cost of the service provided. This change would match what TriMet administrative employees pay for the preferred provider plan.
The ATU wants to have the negotiation sessions conducted only under the requirements of the Public Meetings Law. As stated for the past two days, TriMet is committed to transparency and, as a part of negotiated ground rules, will propose to invite members of the press to attend, even though all previous negotiations with past contracts have been closed sessions. This was to be the first issue discussed during negotiations as part of establishing ground rules.
Negotiations between TriMet and the ATU are not subject to ORS 192.660(3). According to the Oregon Attorney General’s Public Records and Meetings Manual (2011), “Labor negotiations take place only between employee representatives, such as labor organizations, and employers. Normally, designated representatives of both parties meet at the bargaining table, in which circumstance, the meeting is not being held by the governing body, and the Public Meetings Law does not apply.”(p. 148).
Thus, if the negotiations were conducted by a governing body, such as the TriMet Board of Directors, then the Public Meetings Law would apply. Our negotiations take place only between TriMet staff and representatives, and the ATU and their representatives. The negotiation sessions are not a “meeting” because they are not conducted by a governing body, so the requirements for conducting a public meeting do not apply.
The ATU had requested that the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) decide the issue. However, ERB does not have jurisdiction over Public Meetings Law. TriMet intends to pursue the issue in Multnomah County Circuit Court, and if the ATU will agree to stipulated facts, the matter can be expedited.
The previous contract expired in Nov. 2009, and was finally settled through interest arbitration in July 2012, just 4-1/2 months before it expires on Nov. 30, 2012.