TriMet’s long-delayed bargaining off to a slow start

The long-awaited negotiations between TriMet and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 began Sept. 7, with the two sides meeting almost daily. Three weeks in, TriMet is still going through its proposals one by one, explaining the rationale for each of the multitude of changes. TriMet is undertaking to bargain a thorough re-write of the contract at a time when its relationship with the union has never been worse.

Local 757 Vice President Jon Hunt likened TriMet’s approach to throwing stuff on a wall to see what would stick.

TriMet’s most contentious proposal is likely to be a further shift of the cost of its expensive health care plan to employees. Before last year, TriMet workers had what most workers used to have: fully-paid health insurance covering employees and their dependents. But last year an arbitrator imposed TriMet’s previous offer in its entirety, including a “90-10” health insurance plan in which workers pay 10 percent of medical bills, up to a yearly out-of-pocket maximum of $1,500. Now TriMet is proposing an “80-20” plan, where workers would pay 20 percent, up to the maximum.

Clean laundry service? 19th century rail mechanics had no such frills.
Clean laundry service? 19th century rail mechanics had no such frills.

There are also little, petty proposals that are sure to provoke members. For example, TriMet is proposing to end its practice of providing clean work clothes to bus and light rail mechanics. TriMet proposes to give workers each $150 a year to purchase their own coveralls. Workers would be responsible for laundering them, but it’s unclear where they would take them to be washed. Are they supposed to bring home their workwear, covered in diesel fuel, industrial-strength solvents, and brake dust, and wash them in the same washing machine as the baby clothes?

Hunt said TriMet has a high-quality state-certified apprenticeship training program for mechanics. Because TriMet hires those mechanic apprentices from within, the program serves as a beacon of hope for upward mobility for the transit agency’s least-paid workers, like bus cleaners. Enrolling in the program, they can learn a skill over several years, earn a state credential, and rise to a living wage. No more of that, TriMet proposes. TriMet proposes to strike the contract language about hiring from within, and hire people off the street instead.

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