In a decision that contained blistering comments about the negotiating behavior of TriMet’s management team’s negotiating tactics, the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB), for the third time, ruled against TriMet in an ongoing labor dispute with its union. At the bottom of the dispute is a colossal error made by TriMet negotiators. They failed and/or refused to put a wage offer on the bargaining table. Then they tried to correct that failure at the last minute by proposing a brand-new wage proposal to the interest arbitrator.
ERB rightfully rejected this tactic noting that the timing of TriMet’s first wage proposal “eliminated any chance for the earlier steps in the bargaining process to work. Such a significant and last-minute change in position demonstrates TriMet’s lack of good faith.” One board member was even more blunt, stating “TriMet does not appear to have learned its lesson.”
TriMet management also delayed the process considerably. On September 12, 2011, ERB found that TriMet’s last minute offer violated ORS 243.672(1)(e). Instead of accepting the established law, however, TriMet appealed the Board’s decision and lost a second time. But, instead of submitting a proposal that complied with both of ERB’s orders, TriMet managers, again, failed to comply. Now, in an order dated February 16, 2012, the ERB has once again followed established law and ordered TriMet to submit a wage proposal that reflects its position at the bargaining table—status quo. What this means, is that TriMet must continue the wage increase language from the expired 2003-09 contract.
Thus, TriMet management’s bad decision cut the agency’s own bargaining throat.
TriMet must increase all unionized employee wages by 3% retroactive to June 1, 2011; by 2.1% increase retroactive to December 1, 2011, and by 2.9% wage increase due on June 1, 2012.
The question to ask is who should pay for this obvious blunder; taxpayers, or the TriMet management team that caused the liability?
The ERB decision leaves only one major issue on the bargaining table, health insurance. And despite TriMet management’s delaying tactics, the Union is hopeful of resolution. “All of this delay was unnecessary,” says Jon Hunt, President of ATU 757. The Union, according to Hunt, has made many offers to resolve the insurance dispute over the last two years, but TriMet repeatedly rejected those offers—even when the savings were those TriMet managers claimed they were seeking.
“TriMet has repeatedly blamed the union and its leadership for their budget problems and failure to obtain a contract. The real fault, however, lies with TriMet’s management team’s own ineptness. They could not bargain within the law and they have been steadily increasing their managerial ranks and capital expenditures while crying poverty, raising fares and cutting service. The Governor just appointed new TriMet Board members, saying it was time for new leadership and new vision. Media editorials have recently called for changes to the TriMet Board, the Union and even the ERB, attempting to blame them for TriMet’s financial trouble, rather than TriMet’s management team. This makes one wonder how much public money has gone into management’s recent media misdirection campaign which included a slick, multi-colored brochure handed out to thousands.”
Well, the time for new leadership and new vision certainly is here, claims Hunt. “It’s not the Union leadership or the ERB that needs changing. It’s time for new top management leadership at TriMet. No more excuses.” says Hunt. “How many more millions of dollars will taxpayers have to foot the bill for because of poor management decisions?” asks Hunt.
Other unfair labor practice charges for violating the contract when TriMet unilaterally began charging members for insurance coverage on January 1, 2011, and for retaliation, are still pending. Should TriMet be found guilty, TriMet could be liable for reimbursing active and retired TriMet employees for insurance premiums which is expected to total, by TriMet’s own calculations, 10 million dollars.
“How many more bad decisions have to be made before those responsible are held accountable? How long do taxpayers have to pay for bad decision after bad decision by incompetent but, highly-paid, public employees, in this case TriMet senior managers?” asks Hunt.
What is management’s real agenda? According to Ron Heintzman, former ATU International President and ATU Local 757 president between 1988 and 2002, the current administration is the most anti-worker and anti-union band of characters he has seen in his 30-year association with TriMet. “I’ve worked with four general managers and numbers of TriMet Board members over past years, and I would have to say that this management team has the worst labor-relations record and a clear inability to treat TriMet workers fairly.” said Heintzman. “In my opinion, they have a clear union-busting agenda.”
To view OERB’s recent ruling, go to www.oregon.gov/ERB, select Board Orders and click on UP-016-11.