Union workers at TriMet, Oregon’s largest transit agency,
may soon test a new process for resolving contract disputes. Under
a union-supported state law, transit district employees can’t
strike; instead both sides submit their final offers to an arbitrator,
who picks whichever is most reasonable.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 is proposing to keep the contract
exactly the same for the next three years. The contract includes
fully paid full-family health care, and annual cost-of-living increases
from 3 to 5 percent.
TriMet, on the other hand, is proposing dozens of changes, including
lowering the minimum cost-of-living increase to 1 percent. The agency
also wants union workers to pay more out-of-pocket for their health
insurance. Active members and pre-Medicare retirees receive employer-paid
family health coverage. Members have $5 co-pays, but no premiums
The old agreement, which ran six years, expired Nov. 30, 2009. It
covers about 2,000 active members, plus retirees.
Bargaining on a three-year agreement began in October. Union leaders
said TriMet’s initial employer proposal was so bad, they mailed
it out to all Local 757 members at TriMet.
Since then, TriMet has made some concessions, but is still proposing:
• that employees hired after April 1, 2012 receive a 401(k)
style “defined contribution” retirement plan;
• that retirees be at least age 55 to collect retirement benefits
(the current contract specifies benefits after 30 years of service
regardless of age);
• that retiree health insurance contributions be capped for
union members retiring after April 2012.
“They want to take these retirees when they’re most
vulnerable and throw them under the bus,” said Local 757 President
Jon Hunt. “We don’t think that’s right.”
The two sides entered mediation June 7, and declared impasse July
13, presenting final offers July 20. They will next choose an arbitrator
from a list supplied by the state Employment Relations Board, and
then will have a chance to make a deal before presenting their very
final offers to an arbitrator, who will pick one of the two proposals
in its entirety.
Local 757 will hold membership meetings to discuss its final proposal.
Hunt said it could be 2011 before the process is concluded.