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TriMet union boss: We may lose the media battle, but we’ll win the legal war

Bruce Hansen

Three months after winning a union election in which he promised to “Battle the media, put our voice in public, let the public know our stance,” TriMet’s new union president has been strangely quiet.

On Friday, an early evening news release from TriMet prompted the latest unflattering headline about the union in The Oregonian. Amalgamated Transit Union President Bruce Hansen went unquoted.

TriMet managers, meanwhile, made available both regular spokeswoman Mary Fetsch and their top labor negotiator, Randy Steadman.

Speaking by phone at 11:40 p.m. Friday, Hansen said he hadn’t been available for comment because he’d been busy that evening organizing a new unit to join the union.

Hansen said he would have known to return the newspaper’s phone calls immediately if Oregonian reporter Joe Rose had text-messaged him instead of leaving a voicemail.

“I got the call at 5:42 this evening, and [Rose] left me the message, and then he called me again at like 8:50,” the union president said. “I’ve had this conversation with him before – if it’s something he needs to get out quickly, to text me, and I can break away.”

Hansen said he doesn’t think the union will ultimately pay a price for unfriendly media coverage about its legal dispute with TriMet over past benefits. The transit agency is attempting to retroactively charge its workers and retirees for medical costs their previous insurance plan would have covered.

Hansen says TriMet’s actions are illegal, and workers will win in court.

“When the truth is all said and done, I don’t think it’s going to hurt,” Hansen said of Friday’s story. “They’re going to be found unlawfully implementing their decisions again. … We’re going to be right in the end.”

TriMet workers’ current contract will expire in November, refocusing public attention on the union’s battle to protect worker benefits. In the spring, the union could find itself fighting management in the state legislature, too.

Asked if the union had considered issuing a news release of its own last week, after it learned of TriMet’s plan to garnish the money from workers’ wages, Hansen said the idea hadn’t come up.

“Our whole concern was to get our message to our membership,” Hansen said. “Get something out as fast as we can and as quickly to the membership as we could. … We brought in volunteers that stuffed and labeled [letters to ATU members] and out they went the very next day.”

Hansen said much of the rest of his time this week was devoted to “putting out fires” at other Amalgamated Transit Union properties.

“We’re tied up in C-Tran negotiations,” Hansen said. “We’ve got three open contracts, an operators’ contract getting ready to open over there. We were in negotiations up in North Bonneville and PPS this week alone.”

He added that “we are still paying close attention to what’s going on.”

Hansen said he doesn’t regret having 22 separate contracts to juggle in addition to his largest contract, TriMet’s.

“They’re all my brothers and sisters,” Hansen said. “Yes, it is time-consuming because of the distance we have to travel. But as far as I’m concerned, each and every one of them deserves all the time that I can give them.”

An earlier version of this story said the union election was five months ago. It was three.

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