Transit Union ready to meet with TriMet

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 has notified TriMet that it is ready to start bargaining as the sides await a judge’s ruling on whether the negotiations can be open to the public.

Since November the transit union and TriMet have been involved in a procedural standoff over allowing public access to their contract negotiations. The union says state law requires them to be public, but TriMet disagrees.

Earlier this month, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Roberts said she needs more information before she can rule on the matter.

In a letter sent to TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane and Executive Director of Labor Relations Randy Stedman on April 8, ATU Local 757 requested that the parties start bargaining immediately, rather than wait for a judicial determination.

“Simply put: What was supposed to be an expedited process has turned out not to be,” wrote ATU President Bruce Hansen.

In a response posted on TriMet’s website April 10, agency spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said “TriMet is looking forward to resuming contract negotiations with ATU.” She said TriMet would propose negotiation dates within the next week. (At press time no dates had been posted.)

In the letter, Hansen said both sides must be prepared to schedule an “extraordinary number” of bargaining sessions, including at night and on weekends. He said more bargaining time will be needed in order to deal with the more than 400 changes TriMet has proposed. [TriMet presented its offer to the ATU and to the public via its website on Nov. 30, 2012.]

“Last time we bargained, TriMet made approximately 16 proposals,” Hansen said.

Fetsch disputed the union’s number, saying TriMet has offered 29 substantive proposals. “There are a number of housekeeping proposals, such as correcting spelling and punctuation errors, and incorporating existing side agreements into the main body of the contract that do not change the wages, hours, benefits or working conditions of employees,” she said.

As for the public attending, that won’t happen until the judge issues her ruling.

Fetsch said TriMet “remains committed to having these bargaining sessions covered by the mainstream media so the public can be informed about the process.”

Hansen said TriMet believes it has found a legal loophole in the public meetings law that gives it the sole ability to declare negotiations “non-public.” “TriMet claims that by simply sending only one official negotiator to the bargaining table, the session is no longer subject to the public meetings law,” Hansen said.

In contrast, union bylaws require that 18 union members attend bargaining sessions, and they do so in their off-hours to reduce costs to the union.

“We think TriMet’s interpretation is contrary to the legislators’ intent and the interest of the public,” Hansen said. “We will continue to seek judicial confirmation of our view of the statute.”

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