In a letter sent to the ATU, TriMet Executive Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources Randy Stedman wrote, "We all want a good outcome for our employees and your members and as noted in the secretary of state's audit, strained relations between the ATU and management adversely affect our operations and employee morale."
The contract expired on November 30, 2012. By law union members cannot strike, so if a settlement cannot be reached via negotiations, an arbitrator selects one of the party's proposals for the contract period.
To date, the parties have participated in 32 bargaining sessions. TriMet believes that the sessions have been productive, as the parties have reached an understanding on a number of minor work rule and working condition provisions.
However, "the core issues in these negotiations are active and retiree healthcare costs. TriMet cannot continue to pay 100 percent of the premium cost for its platinum-level healthcare benefits for active employees and retirees and then for another 16 years for surviving spouses and dependents. On this issue, and the other compensation increases proposed by the Union, the parties have made no progress," the letter stated.
The recent secretary of state's audit stated that TriMet's "most serious and looming concern" is related to the cost of healthcare benefits and the $852 million unfunded liability for retiree health care. TriMet is working to reform these benefits through contract negotiations to be in line with peer agencies.
In other news, United Transportation Union Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (UTU-SMART) Transportation Division General Committee of Adjustment GO 505 says its members are prepared to strike on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) as early as March 21 following the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) rejection of proposed wage increases.
The wage increases and other recommendations were the findings of Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) 244, which was appointed by President Barack Obama to settle a long-running dispute between LIRR management and its unionized employees.
The PEB members recommended that the LIRR pay wage increases totaling 18.4 percent over six years (2.9 percent per year) and that employees begin contributing to health insurance premium costs. After factoring in the recommended employee health insurance contributions, the PEB's recommendations will produce net wage increases of 2.5 percent per year.
The PEB's wage recommendations are retroactive to the first year of the contract dispute, which has been ongoing for more than three years. The PEB rejected MTA's demand that workers accept three years of net zero wage increases, followed by two, two-percent increases over five years.
The PEB also rejected MTA's demand for major concessions in pensions, including a permanent five percent employee contribution.
In its recommendations issued December 22, the PEB said the wage increases were comparable to recent commuter settlements in large cities such as Chicago and Boston. GO 505 General Chairperson Anthony Simon said that since its January 15 announcement, the MTA has refused to say if it would seek a second PEB and has declined to meet with him or leaders of any of the other affected unions in the bargaining group.