Good afternoon and Merry Christmas to all.
It is great to see many of you again, and sad when you realize some who were here last year are no longer with us today. But Christmas is supposed to be a happy and joyish occasion, so let’s take a positive look at today and at the future.
As most of you know, we have a real mess on our hands at TriMet. Our contract expired in November 2009, and after failing to reach a negotiated settlement at the table, the contract dispute was moved to arbitration. Local 757 was instrumental in pushing passage of the interest arbitration bill for transit workers in the Oregon Legislature several years ago, and we believe it was a good law then, and is a good law today. It protects workers and the public from disruption of public transportation services during a labor dispute.
The only thing we did not expect, was for TriMet to break the law. Under the law, the collective bargaining contract, and the longstanding practice with TriMet, the expiring contract and all of its provisions must remain in place, unchanged, until a new contract is put in place. After more than 25 years past practice, and the recognition by both TriMet and the Union of the undisputed past practice, on September 27th of this year the new TriMet General Manager, Neil McFarlane, decided that he interpreted the law differently than his predecessors had for the past 25 years, and that he could change the contract terms despite the fact that the dispute has not even been arbitrated.
Thus, as most of you know by now, TriMet announced that it was going to start charging active and retired employees for their health insurance effective January 1, 2011, and that all future negotiated wage increases for active employees were being suspended. TriMet intends to violate the law come January 1st. They can call it “their interpretation of the law” or call it anything they want, but they are breaking the law, plain and simple. And besides breaking the law, what TriMet intends to do is just WRONG! How can you do this to retirees on a fixed income we ask? TriMet claims that retirees aren’t going to be affected by the change. That is pure BALONEY! While TriMet retirees over the age of 65 won’t be charged for their health coverage under TriMet’s plan, some 300 TriMet retired members under the age of 65 will have to pay, and some, will have to pay a lot of money. If you are a TriMet retiree under 65 years of age and cover your family under the Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, you will begin paying $235 a month on January 1st. That’s from paying zero, to an out-of-pocket monthly cost of $235, or $2,820 a year. Remember, most of these retirees are on fixed incomes. But it even gets worse! For the roughly 23% of retirees under the age of 65 on TriMet disability, this will be devastating to them. Again, depending on the insurance plan they are under, the new out-of-pocket costs to them on January 1st will eat up more than one third of their monthly disability pay. Now that is not only wrong, I say it is CRIMINAL. Here is what TriMet needs to DO! They need to rescind their plan to start charging members for insurance in violation of the collective bargaining agreement. The Union is willing to go back to the table, while the arbitration process moves forward. The parties can settle anytime, right up to the point where an arbitrator makes a ruling. If the dispute has to be settled by the arbitrator, the Union will live with whatever the arbitrator decides. So, if TriMet can convince the arbitrator that they have to balance their light rail budget on the backs of TriMet’s active and retired employees, then so be it. That is the LAW, and that is what we agreed to! But let the process work and the loud cry to TriMet is…..COMPLY WITH THE LAW and DON’T HURT OUR RETIRED MEMBERS!
I, and the officers in front of you here today, commit that we will continue to fight, and to do everything possible to prevent you and your families from being hurt! Thank you again for inviting me, and Merry Christmas and Happy new Year to you and your families.