TriMet calls on union to proceed with scheduled negotiations

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With less than 24 hours before contract negotiations were set to begin, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) is attempting to stop the start of negotiations. TriMet is calling on the ATU to proceed with the start of negotiations set for Friday, Nov. 30 at 9 a.m.

“We want to begin negotiations as quickly as possible to resolve these issues for our employees and begin to make our benefits financially sustainable and in line with the market,” said Randy Stedman, TriMet Executive Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources. “While the bargaining sessions are not subject to Public Meetings Law, we want to invite members of the press to attend and bring the transparency we both desire to the process.”

Read TriMet’s letter to the ATU

The current contract expires tomorrow, 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.

TriMet is ready to exchange proposals, with the agency’s top priority focused on reducing 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.

At issue

The ATU is stalling negotiations because it wants to have the sessions conducted only under the requirements of the Public Meetings Law. As stated yesterday, 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.

Contract negotiations

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 wants the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) to decide the issue. However, ERB does not have jurisdiction over Public Meetings Law. TriMet is requesting the Multnomah County Circuit Court, which has jurisdiction, to rule on this matter as quickly as possible.

TriMet has communicated to the ATU that we will show up at tomorrow’s negotiation session at 9 a.m. in the hopes that all other issues related to ground rules can be negotiated while awaiting the Court’s decision.

TriMet has also informed the ATU that it will post all proposals, exhibits and other documents to the agency’s external website in the spirit of transparency.

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.