By Don McIntosh
“No, this is NOT an April fools joke!” said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 in an April 1 Facebook post announcing a tentative agreement covering 2,640 TriMet employees had been reached at 12:30 a.m. that morning. “It has been adversarial, it has been tiring, but at the end, the parties were both able to put our members and the public first.”
To reach a deal, TriMet dropped its proposal to eliminate its state-certified apprenticeship program for bus mechanics. Local 757 fought for over a year to save the apprentice program, and got support from Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, and others.
Meanwhile, the union agreed to a number of changes in the bus mechanic and other training programs. A program that gave bus cleaners the chance to enroll in the bus mechanic apprenticeship is being replaced by a new program to pay for up to 15 employees per term to take classes at Portland Community College on their own time. Over a three year period, employees can enroll in up to six classes, as many as two classes per term, to prepare them to qualify for jobs in facilities maintenance, rail equipment maintenance or maintenance of way, and the contract spells out hiring preferences for internal candidates.
When TriMet was seeking to wind down its apprenticeship program, it stopped adding apprentices to the program. The agency seems to have acknowledged that deprived bus cleaners and fuelers from opportunities to advance.
Now under a separate memorandum of understanding, TriMet will pay $4,000 to over 100 service workers hired from 2014 to 2019 who never had the chance to enter an apprenticeship program.
The agreement also includes front-loaded across-the-board annual raises each Dec. 1; the raises are 3%, 2.5% and 2.25% for 2019, 2020, and 2021 respectively.
Upon ratification, bus operator pay will start at $17.57 an hour and top off at $32.10 an hour after three years. Members will get backpay checks for the raises retroactive to Dec. 1, 2019 and 2020.
Journeyman bus and rail mechanics will get an additional raise of $1 an hour Dec. 1, 2021. Mechanics will get an additional $3-an-hour pay premium while they’re training apprentices, up from 25 cents currently.
Members are almost half way through the term of the contract, which runs Dec. 1, 2019 to Nov. 30, 2022.
The contract also allocates $2.2 million to reimburse employees for their increased contribution to Kaiser Permanente health premiums dating back to Jan. 1, 2020. It changes discipline rules so that written warnings and reprimands don’t count toward progressive discipline after 18 months, unless the worker has another similar violation in that time. And it increases short term disability benefits from $150 to $300 a week until Jan. 1, 2023, when the Oregon Paid Family and Medical Leave Act takes effect.
The deal was reached 12 days before the two sides were to begin binding arbitration in which an arbitrator would pick one side’s offer. ATU’s international provided four staff to assist with negotiations.
Members will vote by mail whether to ratify the agreement, with ballots to be counted April 23. The TriMet Board of Directors will vote on the agreement April 28.