TriMet talks off to rough start


By Don McIntosh

TriMet and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 met  Oct. 10 to begin negotiating a new union contract covering close to 3,000 TriMet employees. It didn’t go well.

“TriMet showed up with a proposal filled with takeaway after takeaway,” the union bargaining team reported in a letter to members.

Among its proposals, TriMet wants to get rid of its bus and light rail maintenance mechanic training programs. For TriMet  cleaners, that program is seen as a pathway to a skilled occupation and a living wage career.

“We have over 150 service workers that were promised when they came in that they would get to go into the program,” Local 757 President Shirley Block told the Labor Press. “Now they want to scrap the program?”

TriMet also wants to stipulate that future electric and hybrid buses won’t necessarily be maintained by union members like the agency’s current diesel buses are. Instead, when TriMet decides to order significant numbers of new buses, it would meet with the union to discuss whether maintenance should be in-house.

TriMet didn’t come prepared with any economic proposal, but it did propose to extend the probationary period for new employees to 180 days (from 120).

Local 757 is proposing 5% annual wage increases, and wants TriMet to return to paying 100% of the cost of health insurance (Workers began paying at least 5% in 2014.)

This will be the first time the TriMet bargaining team is led by new labor relations director Kimberly Sewell under new general manager Doug Kelsey. Their predecessors Randy Stedman and Neil McFarlane presided over an era of acrimonious labor relations from 2011 to 2018.

The two sides are next scheduled to meet Oct. 31.

The current union agreement expires Nov. 30, 2019. If the two sides fail to reach agreement, an arbitrator would pick one side’s final offers, under an Oregon law that bars public transit workers from striking.


  1. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. TriMet’s GM came from a transportation district in Vancouver, BC where just about all (if not in fact all) front line job are contracted out. To executive directors, directors, and managers from
    Kelsey on down, ATU represented employees are merely dispensable numbers. Their October 10, 2019 contract proposal proves this once again.

    After spending money on overtime like proverbial drunken sailors over the summer for a light rail shutdown for repairs, now that it’s contract time they are suddenly poverty stricken. Maybe if they weren’t so top heavy with management hired from out of state and six figure yearly salaried directors from heavy rail (i.e. Union Pacific, BNSF) they wouldn’t be so allegedly cash strapped!

  2. I completely agree with Mr. Cramden. I also want to stress that every union employee at TriMet needs to stand with every other union employee. We also need to support our union as it learns how to become a vocal advocate for us employees. I’d really like to see a change to the law about TriMet not being able to strike . . . at least allow us to have work slow-downs, if not full work-stoppages.

    It would also be helpful if more upper management positions, you know, like Labor Relations Director, had people who actually came from the labor side of things. Not to knock Ms. Sewell, but as an attorney, she has absolutely no idea of how public transit works, she has no idea how to direct HR to look for candidates. And, heavy rail executives, like Mr. Kelsey, have no idea how a public transit system works. Their area of expertise is completely foreign to providing a public service. Service and maintenance employees and operators are just beans to be counted for these people who have no practical experience actually doing the work they expect their employees to get accomplished on a daily basis.


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