ATU voices race concerns at TriMet

Amalgamated Transit Union Local (ATU) 757 is publicly calling out its biggest employer, TriMet, over how the transit agency treats minority employees.

About a year and a half ago, the union contracted with Stephen Johnson, a sociologist and statistician, to analyze TriMet disciplinary data to see if there was evidence of disparate treatment. Johnson and fellow researcher Christine McCaslin looked at TriMet data from 2000 to 2009. They found that minority employees made up about 17 percent of the TriMet workforce, but accounted for 24 percent of the disciplinary actions over that time. In nine of the 10 years, minority employees were more likely to be disciplined than their numbers would have suggested.

“We don’t know why,” Local 757 attorney Susan Stoner told the Labor Press. “We just noticed there seemed to be a disproportionate amount of discipline of minority employees.” That led Local 757 to commission the report, Stoner said.

According to Johnson’s report, over the 10 year-period, of the 226 employees terminated for cause, 62 were minorities; and of the 1,585 who received some form of discipline, 381 were minorities. In the termination cases, the most common reasons cited were poor job attendance and time lost at work. The report acknowledges that discrimination is notoriously difficult to document. But it concluded that some form of further investigation might be warranted.

Earlier this year, Local 757 made the report available to several lawyers representing clients in discrimination lawsuits against TriMet. TriMet was given a copy in late spring. Now the union is publishing it on its web site.

TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch said she hadn’t seen the report, but said the agency would welcome a dialogue with the union about it.

Fetsch also disputed the notion that TriMet would treat employees differently based on race.

“We’re an equal opportunity employer, and we make no race-based distinctions in employment decisions,” Fetsch told the Labor Press.

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