Agency asks state to require ATU to stop delays and start the 150-day bargaining period
With the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) a “no show” for the third time for scheduled negotiation sessions, TriMet today is filing a complaint with the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) to require the ATU to come to the bargaining table and begin bargaining in good faith. The Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaint also asks ERB to establish November 30 as the 150-day trigger for negotiations as required by state statute.
TriMet’s contract with the ATU includes the richest health care benefits in the transit industry. The agency wants to negotiate the next contract as quickly as possible to continue to bring benefits in line with the market and avoid additional service cuts that would be necessary to pay for these benefits for both active employees and retirees.
“These delays are impacting our riders who face a future of continued service cuts in order for us to pay for these unsustainable health care benefits,” said Randy Stedman, TriMet Executive Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources. “This means no service restoration or even service expansions to meet the growing demand for transit. We’re asking ERB to get the ATU to the bargaining table, which is in the best interests of our riders and the community.”
The delay in negotiations also directly impacts union employees. As allowed under state law – ORS 243.712(2) (d) TriMet is not paying any wage increases or increased costs of health care while there is no contract in place. Each month the ATU delays, it costs the typical employee $127 more in lost wages and increased health care costs than if TriMet’s proposals for the new contract were implemented.
Award means $6.8 million due TriMet
While TriMet is focusing on the upcoming contract, the most recent contract is still unresolved. An arbitrator selected TriMet’s proposal in July 2012, 2.5 years after the previous contract expired. But the ATU is challenging the award except for the retroactive wage increases. With the arbitrator’s award, TriMet is due a net $6.8 million in retroactive health care costs under the contract’s 90/10 cost share plan. TriMet offered to forgo the $6.8 million reimbursement from employees in order to create a clean slate going into contract negotiations. Instead, the ATU leadership directed its members not to comply with the award. With this intentional blocking of the contract implementation, TriMet filed a ULP against the ATU and is seeking reimbursement of the $6.8 million from the union itself.
Stedman added that “With the ATU’s challenge to the binding arbitration award, it clearly demonstrates when it comes to working with the ATU, there is nothing binding about binding arbitration. The process does not work for our riders or the community.”
These issues will be heard by ERB at the Jan. 8-9, 2013 hearing with a ruling expected this spring.
After 2.5 years, the three-year contract was finally settled through interest arbitration, just 4-1/2 months before it expired on Nov. 30, 2012. For the next contract, the ATU sent a notice in September demanding to bargain and agreed on three negotiation sessions set for November and December 2012. The ATU did not show up for any of the sessions, intentionally delaying the start of negotiations because it wants negotiations to be open to the public. The Public Meetings Law does not apply to these negotiation sessions. However, TriMet is open to negotiate the matter as part of setting ground rules for the bargaining process, yet the ATU still refuses to meet. TriMet has since filed a motion in Multnomah County Circuit Court to have the matter of public meetings decided. While the ATU expressed interest in a quick resolution by having both parties stipulate to the facts, the ATU now demands discovery, hence, more delays.
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 employees paying six percent of the cost of the service provided. This change would match what TriMet administrative employees pay for the preferred provider plan.