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TriMet wins arbitration battle against union

IMG_1391TriMet won a major legal victory against its union Friday. The decision by a state arbitrator will save the agency from possible service cuts this fall, force hundreds of retirees to begin covering a share of their medical costs and lower the stakes slightly on the next round of bargaining, which will start this fall.

This milestone will be heavily covered throughout the local media today, so I’ll simply link you to the text of the ruling against TriMet’s union and in favor of management and summarize some useful documents.

Here’s what TriMet’s general manager had to say:

“Today’s ruling is terrific news for the entire region, especially our riders as we were facing another $5 million in service cuts if we had lost the arbitration. It provides quality benefits to our union employees, while beginning to reign in unsustainable health care benefits. This is the first step in realigning our benefits to be in line with the market. It’s a good first step, but we’re in a marathon. We face many years and several contracts to truly make our benefits financially sustainable. Until we reach that point, TriMet will continue to face financial challenges.”

Due to the ruling, TriMet said, it won’t be asking riders for $5 million in service cuts this fall.

Here’s a choice observation from the ruling, which found little evidence that TriMet workers are under-compensated:

“In 2011 [TriMet received] 2,365 applicants for 83 bus operator positions. Even though TriMet trains its drivers internally and does not require prior driving experience, approximately 30% of its applicants are experienced bus drivers. … Similarly, TriMet attracted numerous qualified applicants for its service worker positions. … In 2011, TriMet had 1,100 applicants for 26 job vacancies. … TriMet’s turnover rate for bargaining unit employees has been less than 3% during each of the past four years.”

Here’s TriMet’s breakdown of the difference between the two “last best offers,” or LBOs. Here’s what union workers and retirees will have to pay for their medical costs, up from $5 co-pay on visits and prescriptions, a $0 deductible and a $1,000 out-of-pocket maximum:

  • 10% co-pay
  • $5 prescriptions or 20% of cost, whichever is greater
  • $150/member or $450/family deductible
  • No premium contribution
  • Out-of-pocket maximum: $1,500

Here’s a nice look by the Oregonian at the man who made the decision. Nobody has covered this fight more closely than the O’s Joe Rose.

Union member and recent TriMet retiree Al Margulies says this is proof that the union should have never given up its right to strike.

Finally, as Willamette Week notes:

This ruling is only the latest skirmish in a long battle: This contract ends on Nov. 30, and the two sides, both unusually hostile, will return to the bargaining table then.


Update: comments from OPAL and Portland Transport.

Speaking for the region’s leading riders’ advocacy group, OPAL executive director Jonathan Ostar said the service cuts TriMet claims this victory averted have been subject to a sort of shell game:

“The public was led to believe all through the budget decision process that $5M of the $20M (eventually $19M) Contingency set-aside was to cover the potential adverse ruling at this arbitration decision. Now TriMet states that had the decision been adverse to the agency, it would have had to make additional cuts to service and potential raise fares again to cover the loss. OPAL and Bus Riders Unite continue to ask TriMet for greater transparency and accountability in its decision-making, and to come clean with its extra conservative contingency cushion and budget shortfall projections. Only last week we learned that the Federal Surface Transportation bill, MAP-21, signed by President Obama, maintains current federal funding levels, despite TriMet’s stale prediction of a projected loss of $4M. We call on TriMet to immediately initiate plans to invest these savings back into service so we can get our region moving again and connect our transit riders to the opportunities they sorely need.”

This subject also comes up on a thoughtful thread at Portland Transport, which also includes an interesting proposal from planning student Zef Wagner: “I think TriMet badly needs to hire an auditor.”

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