TriMet wins most elements in legal challenge over union contract

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Ruling means TriMet’s overall contract award remains intact and brings common sense changes to health care plan going forward

The Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) ruled yesterday in favor of TriMet and upheld the arbitration award regarding the last contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757. The ATU had challenged the arbitrator’s July 2012 award selecting TriMet’s offer for the contract term Dec. 1, 2009 – Nov. 30, 2012.

“This ruling reaffirms our contract award and allows us to continue realigning health care costs with the market and, in turn, begin putting those savings into service,” said TriMet Executive Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources Randy Stedman. “Union health care benefits remain a platinum-level plan under the Affordable Care Act. With this contract award, we’re moving toward financial sustainability, but we have more work to do.”

ERB ruled that TriMet legally proposed changes to health care plans that required employees to begin paying co-pays and other out-of-pocket health costs with the 90/10 health care plan, but ruled that TriMet could not retroactively recoup those costs back to Dec. 1, 2009. Instead they must be implemented only prospectively beginning September 1, 2012, which is how TriMet has implemented them.

Read the full ERB order

As part of the original arbitration award, Arbitrator Gaba ruled that TriMet must refund $3.6 million in premiums that employees paid prior to the arbitration award. In addition, ERB ruled yesterday that TriMet must forgo $6.8 million in retroactive health care costs back to December 1, 2009. During mediation of this case, TriMet had already offered to forgo those costs.

Background

The last union contract expired two and a half years before the arbitrator selected TriMet’s offer in July 2012 under binding interest arbitration.

  • The arbitrator’s July 2012 award gave TriMet the authority to implement its proposal for the three-year contract period and yesterday’s ERB ruling upheld this award.
  • The ATU filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaint with ERB challenging the award in August before it was implemented.
  • TriMet implemented most of the contract elements prospectively in September 2012, but given the uncertainty of the challenge, delayed implementing the health care changes back to Dec. 1, 2009. The agency did not retroactively implement the health care changes requiring members to pay the difference in plan design. ERB’s ruling does not allow TriMet to retroactively recoup $10.4 million owed as a result of the health care plan awarded. However, TriMet must pay employees $3.6 million for premium contributions they made during the term of the prior contract. ERB also ruled that the ATU did not act unlawfully when it instructed members not to cooperate with TriMet’s attempt to retroactively recoup health insurance premiums.

Upcoming negotiations

The labor contract expired on November 30, 2012. TriMet made contract proposals to the ATU on that date and are available at trimet.org/newcontract. Both parties are scheduled to resume bargaining in September.