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Regional transit agency's board of directors will consider new labor agreement at Dec. 13 meeting.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Labor peace may be coming to TriMet.The union representing the majority of TriMet workers has voted to approve a new labor contact with the regional transit agency.

Amalgamated Transit Union 757 announced Tuesday that its members overwhelmingly approved the tentative agreement. The contract now goes to the TriMet Board of Directors for consideration at its Dec. 13 meeting.

The contract covers 2,461 of TriMet's approximately 3,000 workers. According to ATU 757, of 1,288 total ballots cast, 1,220 — or 94.7 percent — were in favor of the agreement.

"I'm proud to say that our members have overwhelmingly approved this agreement," says ATU 757 Vice President Jon Hunt. "This new contract will help our members keep pace with Portland's skyrocketing cost of living by providing sensible wage increases. And it'll help lower out-of-pocket health care costs for some of our retirees over 65 years of age without increasing their premiums by even a cent. Our members at TriMet have been working without a contract since the last one expired in November 2016, so this is long overdue."

The approval vote is a significant change from negotiations over the last contract, which deadlocked and were resolved by a state-appointed arbitator in TriMet's favor.

According to the ATU, the tentative agreement includes a 3 percent wage increase for all workers in the first year, retroactive to the expiration of the previous contract; a 3.25 percent in the second year; and 3.25 percent increase in the third year.

Several weeks ago, TriMet announced that the tentative agreement was reached after eight negotiation sessions, four mediations sessions and numerous offline discussions.

"From the very start, I have said that a negotiated settlement is the best outcome. I want to thank both the TriMet and the ATU negotiating teams for the arduous work that lead us to this tentative agreement," TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane said at the time. "What we have achieved through this process is not only good for TriMet's team of union-represented employees, it's good for our riders and stakeholders, as it underscores our commitment to providing safe, reliable transit throughout the Portland region."

ATU 757 President Shirley Block said she was proud of the proposed contact and urged her union members to ratify it.

Under state law, if the two sides had not reached agreement, the contact would once again have gone to 'binding arbitartion" for an independent settlement.

The tentative agreement sets forth the terms of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement for a three-year period beginning December 2016 and going through November 2019.

According to TriMet, a major issue had concerned a severe shortage of Journey Worker mechanics. Except for five per year, ATU claims TriMet cannot hire any qualified Journey Worker mechanics from the outside unless ATU gives its permission.

Although TriMet says it has extremely robust apprenticeship programs operating at full tilt, the agency said it cannot keep up with increased demands for service and the retirement of baby boomers. The resulting shortage of mechanics is limiting TriMet's ability to add new service.

TriMet's only final proposal dealt with the mid-life remanufacturing of its light rail vehicles (LRV). A majority of TriMet's LRV fleet is nearing its mid-life point and is in need of remanufacturing to extend the life of the vehicles up to another 15 years. Each LRV travels nearly 63,000 miles each year. TriMet has proposed for an outside vendor to perform a ground-up remanufacturing of LRVs, something TriMet's staff have not done internally.

TriMet believes remanufacturing an LRV is more akin to trading away an old LRV and getting a new one in return than it is to day-to-day maintenance of the fleet. Under TriMet's proposal, union employees would continue to perform operating maintenance of the LRV fleet, unless otherwise agreed to by ATU.

In return, TriMet said it was willing to accept approximately 40 of ATU's proposals.

Roughly, 85% of TriMet's employees are covered by the contract. More information can be found at https://trimet.org/newcontract.

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