TriMet uses its public email list to score points against union


TriMet, the Portland-area public transit district, has a well-developed Internet presence: Online users can plan trips, see when buses are coming, and sign up for e-mail updates.

But now it seems the agency is using its public e-mail list to bash its union — Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757. A Dec. 15 e-mail, sent to over 20,000 subscribing members of the public, drew readers in with its subject line: “Budget Discussion Guide now online – we want your feedback!”

“Tough budget choices are ahead,” explained the unsigned email from TriMet, “and we want to know what’s most important to you when it comes to service on the street and the price you pay to ride.”

It sounds like a public agency seeking public input, right? But click through, and TriMet explains that the projected $12-17 million budget shortfall is brought on by lower payroll revenues, likely federal funding cuts … and because “negotiations with the transit union over health care benefits and other cost-cutting measures are at an impasse.”

“The current trend in the cost of wages and benefits for represented (union) employees is unsustainable,” TriMet declares. “A recent Employment Relations Board decision removed certain cost-saving proposals from our final labor contract offer, so some measures we were hoping to implement—such as bringing wage and health care costs under control—likely will have to wait for a future negotiation.”

TriMet doesn’t explain, but the Employment Relations Board (ERB) is a state agency that administers Oregon’s public employee collective bargaining law. In September, ERB determined that TriMet broke state labor law — when it sent a different “final offer” to arbitration than the real final offer it had made to the union in bargaining.

That contract is heading for binding arbitration, which TriMet calls “a forum in which it is extremely difficult to make significant changes no matter how out-of-line union wages and benefits are.”

To sum up: TriMet asks for public input on service cuts and fare increases, and then uses that as an opportunity to tell the public its own union employees’ wages and benefits are “unsustainable,” out of control, and “out-of-line.”

There’s more. Click on “Tell us what you think,” and that leads to “Common Questions” like “Why not just cut pay and benefits for employees like everyone else has?” The answer, says TriMet, is that 87 percent of its employees are in the union, and TriMet can’t unilaterally change their wages and benefits. “Union leadership has refused to consider reasonable changes to wage increases and benefits that would bring them more in line with other transit/government workers,” TriMet continues. “ATU has also been successful in its legal maneuvers to delay or exclude arbitration on TriMet’s cost-saving wage and benefit proposals.”

TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch told the Labor Press that the e-mail had over 800 responses in the first day. She offered no support for the contention that TriMet wages are out of line, but said health benefits — which TriMet provides for union members and their dependents — cost $16,000 a year.

The budget discussion will continue with public meetings in February.

TriMet operates bus and light rail service in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties. It’s funded by fares and local payroll taxes, and is governed by a seven-member board appointed by the governor.


  1. Wage cuts? Benefit cut? How about $225,000 a year salary that the manager receives? Let’s start at the top with cuts.

    Other cuts? How about WES which is losing money every year. Imagine how many buses, service saves and probably improvements, if WES alone were cut.

    Orange Line MAX. Why? Save this money TRiMet has to put into this line and improve bus service.

    Those two cuts alone as well as a cut in General Manager salaries would not only fill the gap, but gain a major surplus to add buses and service to everywhere else.

    Think about it…. every time a new MAX line is added, TriMet has no money to pay for operating it, operating bus service without cuts, or paying their employees what they are worth.

    By the way, when was the last increase in wages for union employees? Over 10 years ago. Why? So union members can get good health care as being a bus operator or other union jobs causes alot of havoc on the body. Bus Operators get lousy recovery times on many runs (break, but this terminology is not used, unless convenient) and barely have time to use restroom or eat something. Remember, these are rolling offices and work places for operators and they do not have the convenience as many other jobs offer.

    TriMet needs to seriously look at costs associated with MAX and WES. When a train breaks down, service has to be pulled from other lines and those folks are inconvenienced. The cost to run MAX and WES are very high. Oh, did I mention crime? OK, we won’t go there as it is high as MAX has only one operator who really cannot see into the train while operating it. Bus Operators can at least monitor their buses well and crime is kept to a minimum.

    WES, needs to go. Orange Line needs to be scrapped and let’s focus on the problems already here instead of continuing to create new ones.


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