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TriMet labor talks break down

Contract negotiations between TriMet and its labor union ended before they even began.

Representatives of TriMet and Amalgamated Transit Union 757 met over the weekend to discuss ground rules for negotiating the next labor contract. The talks broke down before an agreement could be reached, however.

Like so much else with TriMet and ATU 757, why the discussions ended is a matter of dispute. So is what happens next.

According to TriMet, the regional transit agency would not agree to a union request concerning the current contract, which was imposed by an arbitrator in July 2012. ATU 757 has appealed the imposition of the contract to the state Employment Relations Board.

TriMet says negotiations cannot begin because the union insists all negotiated agreements will be void if it wins the appeal.

“It’s clear that the ATU does not want to enter substantive negotiations until their challenge to the past contract is decided," says Randy Stedman, TriMet’s Executive Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources, said in a press release.

ATU 757 says the talks broke down during a discussion of whether bloggers can attend the negotiations. TriMet and ATU 757 both agreed that reporters from Portland area news outlets can attend the discussions. But according to the union, Stedman broke off the talks when the union raised the issue of bloggers.

TriMet presented its contract offer on Nov. 30, 2012. ATU 757 has not yet presented its counter offer.

"The unexpected, abrupt ending of the meeting meant the Union did not have an opportunity to respond to Mr. Stedman’s concerns by presenting a counter proposal," ATU 757 said in a press release.

The ERB is expected to issue its ruling on the contract within a month or two. It is unclear whether negotiation will begin after the ruling is issued, however. Both sides can appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, TriMet says that ATU 757 workers are receiving less money under the current contract than under the agency's new offer. At the present time, union members are paying five percent of their health care costs and not receiving cost of living increases. TriMet has proposed that union members pay 10 percent of their health care costs but begin receiving COLA raises again. The agency says that would result in a net gain for ATU 757 members.

"Unfortunately we remain at a standstill, while union members are seeing more money taken out of their paycheck than if TriMet’s contract proposal is accepted,” Stedman said.

According to TriMet, unless union members pay more of their health care costs, the agency will face a $19 million budget deficit and service crisis in the 2017 fiscal year.

TriMet says no bargaining sessions are currently scheduled. ATU 757 says they could begin at any time, however.

Parties in collective bargaining frequently do not agree on ground rules. The failure to have ground rules does not delay the beginning of bargaining,” says TriMet President Bruce Hansen.