TriMet today responded to false claims by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) that the agency is resisting having its labor negotiations be open meetings. 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.
Friday, Nov. 30 the current contract expires; it’s also the first planned negotiation session with the ATU where ground rules will be discussed, including how the sessions will be conducted. That is the appropriate forum to discuss inclusion of the press.
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.
TriMet Executive Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources Randy Stedman said, “These are difficult and complex issues that deserve both transparency and a negotiating atmosphere that avoids spectacle.”
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.
Stedman has also communicated to the ATU the agency’s desire for transparency in the negotiations, including posting proposals, exhibits and other documents on the agency’s external website. “While the bargaining sessions are not open meetings, we want to invite members of the press to attend. We fully expect the press to report on the process and serve to inform the public. We believe that in this manner the transparency issues and the need for an orderly process will both be served. We look forward to discussing this idea with the ATU this week.”
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.
TriMet has also informed the ATU and its union workforce that 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.