ATU seeks to overturn TriMet’s win in contract arbitration

[UPDATED BELOW]

The union that represents 2,000-plus TriMet employees is asking the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) to overturn last month’s contract arbitration decision.

Arbitrator David Gaba was required to choose one side’s final offer, and he picked TriMet’s in his July 12 ruling, citing the public interest in reducing the extraordinary cost of health care for members and retirees — over $30,000 a year for full-family coverage under a Regence BlueCross BlueShield plan. But in his decision he also said some provisions in TriMet’s offer could be found illegal. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 follows up on those in an unfair labor practice complaint it filed with ERB on Aug. 8.

The complaint alleges that TriMet violated Oregon’s Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) in several respects:

  • TriMet’s final offer, presented to the arbitrator, proposed to retroactively impose health plan changes, and to put new hires on a 401(k)-style defined contribution retirement plan. But the proposals lacked significant details. During the hearing before the arbitrator, TriMet offered testimony clarifying the proposals. That, Local 757 argues, was a change in its offer and thus bad faith bargaining.
  • TriMet’s plan to deduct retroactive health plan payments from workers’ wages violates Oregon wage and hour law, which says employers can’t make deductions from wages without employee’s written authorization, individually or through a collective bargaining agreement. And contract proposals that violate other laws are illegal under PECBA.
  • TriMet’s offer ends the practice of paying union officers to represent members in grievance meetings. ATU says in its complaint that during the arbitration hearing, a TriMet manager testified that ATU had filed an excessive number of grievances, and that this proposal was designed to limit ATU and its bargaining unit members use of the grievance process. Thus, the union argues, the purpose of the proposal is to retaliate against bargaining unit members for exercising their rights under the contract, which violates PECBA.
  • Under the previous contract, retirees got a 3 to 7 percent annual cost of living increase, but TriMet’s proposal bases retiree pension increases on the Consumer Price Index. That takes away a benefit retirees already earned, ATU argues, and thus violates promises in the previous contract.
  • TriMet also announced Aug. 1 that it is discontinuing annual payments to two union-administered funds — the Recreation Trust Fund and the Employee Assistance Program. The old contract spells out payments to the funds, but TriMet’s final offer is silent on them. ATU says discontinuing the payments unilaterally alters the status quo.

As of the publication of this article, ERB had not yet determined how it will proceed with the complaint — whether it will be assigned to an administrative law judge for investigation, or some other process. [UPDATE: ERB has assigned the case to administrative law judge Wendy Greenwald for investigation.]

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