A legal dispute between TriMet and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 is now headed for the Oregon Supreme Court. The case has to do with whether public sector unions and their employers have the right to allow the press and members of the public to observe union contract negotiations. Normally, both sides prefer to negotiate privately, on the assumption that grandstanding and showmanship would otherwise get in the way of reaching agreement. But ATU leaders think they’ll win in the court of public opinion — if the public is allowed to witness what they see at the bargaining table from TriMet labor relations director Randy Stedman.
State law pretty clearly lets either side open up bargaining to the public. “Labor negotiations shall be conducted in open meetings unless negotiators for both sides request that negotiations be conducted in executive session,” says ORS 192.660(3). In fact, that provision in the law was proposed by a Republican legislator who thought public employers would be less likely to give away the store if press and the public could sit in on union contract negotiations.
But lawyers for TriMet have argued that provision doesn’t apply to them because their bargaining sessions aren’t “meetings” as defined by Oregon’s Public Meeting Law, which ORS 192.660(3) is a part of.
“They have attempted to use every kind of technical definition to destroy what to me seems like a pretty plain statute,” says Aruna Masih of the Bennett Hartman law firm, who’s representing ATU in the case.
The case has been under way since late 2012. In 2013, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Roberts ruled in favor of TriMet’s position. But the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned her decision in February 2016, and on Jan. 13, 2017, the Oregon Supreme Court accepted a request to review the case. A hearing is scheduled for June 14.