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TriMet, union spar over contract ruling

TriMet said Saturday that the Employment Relations Board has upheld the current labor contract imposed by a state-approved arbitrator.

But the union representing most TriMet employees emphasized the ruling also said the agency was guilty of unfair labor practices.

Shortly after the ruling was released Friday evening, Amalgamated Transit Union 757 released a statement that quoted President Bruce Hansen as saying, “[T]he Union was completely cleared of any wrongdoing by the Board. On the other hand, the Board found that TriMet violated its legal duty to bargain in good faith.”

On Saturday, however, TriMet released a much different statement. It quoted Executive Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources Randy Stedman as saying, “This ruling reaffirms our contract award and allows us to continue realigning health care costs with the market and, in turn, begin putting those savings into service. Union health care benefits remain a platinum-level plan under the Affordable Care Act. With this contract award, we’re moving toward financial sustainability, but we have more work to do.”

The rest of TriMet's statement is as follows:

The Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) ruled yesterday in favor of TriMet and upheld the arbitration award regarding the last contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757. The ATU had challenged the arbitrator’s July 2012 award selecting TriMet’s offer for the contract term Dec. 1, 2009 – Nov. 30, 2012.

ERB ruled that TriMet legally proposed changes to health care plans that required employees to begin paying co-pays and other out-of-pocket health costs with the 90/10 health care plan, but ruled that TriMet could not retroactively recoup those costs back to Dec. 1, 2009. Instead they must be implemented only prospectively beginning September 1, 2012, which is how TriMet has implemented them.

As part of the original arbitration award, Arbitrator Gaba ruled that TriMet must refund $3.6 million in premiums that employees paid prior to the arbitration award. In addition, ERB ruled yesterday that TriMet must forgo $6.8 million in retroactive health care costs back to December 1, 2009. During mediation of this case, TriMet had already offered to forgo those costs.

The last union contract expired two and a half years before the arbitrator selected TriMet’s offer in July 2012 under binding interest arbitration.

The arbitrator’s July 2012 award gave TriMet the authority to implement its proposal for the three-year contract period and yesterday’s ERB ruling upheld this award.

The ATU filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaint with ERB challenging the award in August before it was implemented.