Portland-headquartered Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 teamed up with Occupy Portland and the community transit justice group OPAL April 4 for an “Occupy TriMet” rally, in which about 80 people took part in a peaceful assembly at Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Local 757 also declared April 4 to be the kickoff of a signature campaign on a petition to governor John Kitzhaber — asking him to direct the TriMet Board of Directors to replace TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane. Local 757 holds McFarlane responsible for imposing a wage freeze and health insurance cost sharing on members, over the union’s objection. The wage freeze has been struck down by the state Employment Relations Board as unlawful because it was not agreed to by union members or by an arbitrator. A separate charge contesting the health insurance changes is still pending.
Local 757 is also arguing that TriMet can save money by bringing in-house its contracted-out transit service for elderly and disabled riders, known as TriMet Lift; TriMet disputes that, and says it would cost more to do the work in-house.
The Occupy TriMet event was planned in response to a call by Occupy Boston for a national day of action in defense of public transportation. April 4 — the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., was chosen to underscore the cause King devoted himself to in later years — prioritizing human needs over war spending.
All over the United States, local transit districts are cutting service and raising fares. But TriMet management has chosen to argue publicly that the cuts and fare increases are made necessary in part because of “unsustainable” employee pay and benefits — and because “union leadership has refused to consider reasonable changes.”
Local 757 vice president Sam Schwarz described the petition as a public statement of “no confidence” in McFarlane.