May 6, 2011 Volume 112 Number 9

Transit Union dispute with TriMet may not settle until spring 2012

A labor dispute between Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 and TriMet may not get settled until spring of 2012, if not later.

The union contract at TriMet —which covers 2,000 bus and rail operators, mechanics, and support staff — expired Nov. 30, 2009. After bargaining over a required 150-day time period, an impasse was declared in July 2010. Under Oregon law, transit workers are prohibited from striking, and any contract dispute must be settled through binding arbitration. However, when the sides submitted their "last, best and final" offers to the arbitrator, TriMet's proposal contained issues that the union alleges were never raised at the bargaining table. Local 757 filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) complaint with the Oregon Employment Relations Board accusing TriMet of bad-faith bargaining.

A few months later the union filed a second ULP, this time charging TriMet with retaliation. The union alleges the transit agency unilaterally implemented new conditions to the extended contract in retaliation for the union filing the first ULP. The new conditions, effective Jan. 1, 2011, suspended all bargaining unit cost-of-living wage increases and began charging active and retired employees for a portion of their health insurance premiums. Under the extended agreement, TriMet paid all premiums.

The Oregon Employment Relations Board will hear the retaliation complaint May 16-17, followed by the bad-faith bargaining complaint May 18.

A decision on the retaliation charge could take up to six months, Jon Hunt, president of ATU Local 757, told TriMet's Executive Board at its monthly meeting April 27.

A final ruling on the bad-faith bargaining charge will be issued no later than mid-August, Hunt said.

Either party can appeal the outcome, causing further delays.

"Absent any appeals, it is logical to assume that the interest arbitrator's decision will come no earlier than March 2012," said Hunt, noting that the longer the dispute continues, the more it could cost if TriMet loses.

"As we have said all along, this dispute can be resolved. We're willing to sit down, meet and negotiate."

At presstime, no talks are scheduled.

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