Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 is asking the Oregon Legislature to give public transit workers the right to strike again. Under Oregon’s public employee collective bargaining law, they used to have that right, but in 2007 at the union’s urging lawmakers moved transit workers into the same public safety category as police and firefighters. Forbidden to strike, they have their contracts decided by a neutral arbitrator if union and employer can’t agree.
“What we’ve seen since then is that it wasn’t a perfect fit,” says Local 757 Executive Board member Bill Bradley. A Lane Transit District maintenance worker, Bradley is taking a leave of absence to lobby for SB 690, a bill introduced by State Sen. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale) that would restore the right to strike.
TriMet, the state’s biggest transit agency, is the only agency where a contract has been decided by arbitration. For Local 757, that was a bitter loss: In 2012, arbitrator David Gaba sided with TriMet, eliminating pension benefits for future hires and increasing what workers pay for health insurance.
Now TriMet and Local 757 are heading to arbitration again. This time the main sticking point is TriMet’s proposal to get rid of its much-prized apprenticeship training program for bus and light rail mechanics. Arbitrator Norman Brand is scheduled to hear arguments from both sides on April 12. Bargaining has been under way since October 2019.
“I do believe the strike would resolve contract disputes in a quicker fashion and allow us to get our issues in front of the community,” Bradley said. “And I believe the community will be on our side.”