Does Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 have the right to let the public observe its contract negotiations with TriMet? Normally, both sides in a union contract negotiation prefer to meet in private, to avoid grandstanding and be more likely to make a deal. But in 2012, leaders of Local 757 got so fed up with the bellicose behind-the-scenes posture of TriMet negotiators, they wanted the media and the public to see it.
And Oregon law seemed pretty clearly to give them that right: “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).
But lawyers and judges have their own way of seeing things. TriMet sued, asking a state circuit court to declare that they could keep the meeting closed, with an argument only a management lawyer could love: Because TriMet’s bargaining team had no quorum requirement to make decisions, therefore its collective bargaining sessions with the union were not “meetings” for purposes of the Public Meetings Law, and because they weren’t meetings, they weren’t subject to the normal prohibition on meeting in private. State circuit court judge Leslie Roberts ruled in favor of TriMet without a trial, but ATU appealed, and the Appeals Court sided with ATU. TriMet appealed the Appeals Court ruling, so the Oregon Supreme Court heard the case last June. On Feb. 15, the Oregon Supreme Court reached a decision, partially disagreeing with both sides, and ordering the circuit court to give the case the trial or hearing it never got.
TriMet, a public transit agency, has spent a bundle to keep the public out of its meetings so far. As of June 30, 2017, the point at which the Supreme Court had heard the case, TriMet had paid outside attorney Keith Garza just under $40,000.