Oregon transit workers ratify first pact in 10 years

PORTLAND, Ore. (PAI) – Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 in Portland, Ore., ratified a new union contract at the area transit agency, TriMet – the first time the two agreed on a pact in over 10 years, the union announced in late October. A six-year deal ratified in Mar. 2004 was followed by a four-year contract imposed by an arbitrator.

Earlier in 2014, it looked like the two sides would go to binding arbitration a second time, after contract bargaining stalled in May. Instead they reached a negotiated deal on September 30 with the help of a state mediator. The new four-year agreement was ratified by the TriMet Board on Oct. 22 and by active union members in ballots that were counted two days later.

The agreement covers about 2,000 workers and 1,200 retirees, including bus and rail operators, mechanics, cleaners, and customer service workers.

It provides three percent across-the-board pay raises on Dec. 1, 2014 and Dec. 1, 2015, plus immediate raises of $1 per hour for about 345 journey-level workers.

It also resolves the most contention in bargaining: health insurance.

“Our members fulfilled their commitment to their passengers and the citizens of the community by accepting reduced health care benefits,” Local 757 President Bruce Hansen said in a press statement. TriMet says the reductions will reduce its expenses by $50 million over the life of the contract.

Under the new agreement, current employees and retirees under 65 have choices: Pay five percent of the premium for a Kaiser Permanente plan with $10 co-pays, or for a Regence plan that pays 80 percent of health expenses; pay that same amount plus the extra premium to keep a current Regence plan that pays 90 percent of expenses; or pay no premium at all for a high-deductible Regence plan that combines with a health savings account.

Once current employees and retirees become eligible for Medicare at age 65, TriMet will reimburse their Medicare premiums and pay for supplemental insurance coverage. But future hires won’t have employer-provided health insurance when they retire: They’ll get $800 a month to purchase health care until they become eligible for Medicare, at which point they won’t be eligible for any TriMet insurance benefit.

Total monthly premiums for active employees in 2015 will range from $671 to $2,216, depending on family size and which plan is chosen. Retiree premiums are higher. Part-time bus operators receive the same health insurance benefit as full-time employees.

The agreement also restores TriMet contributions to funds that benefit members: A

Recreational Trust Fund that pays for an annual picnic, an Employee Assistance Fund that helps workers with substance abuse or psychological issues and a Child/Elder Care Fund that pays for daycare or home care for family members. TriMet will contribute $55,000 a year to each of the funds.

The new contract incorporates the hours-of-service policy the two sides negotiated after TriMet faced bad publicity over sleep-deprived bus drivers: The transit agency now requires at least nine hours between the end of one shift and the beginning of another.

The agreement also: Allows TriMet’s maintenance department to hire up to five journey-level workers per year from outside the district, and up to half the new apprentices in each apprentice program; Simplifies the grievance process by eliminating two steps; and scraps the dysfunctional Joint Labor-Management Committee. Instead the two sides can meet as needed.

A side accord settles seven legal disputes pending before the Oregon Employment Relations Board or in the courts. As part of that settlement, TriMet will reimburse members just under $3.7 million for premium costs they paid in 2011 and 2012, $500,000 for out-of-pocket medical costs in 2011, and $425,000 for premium costs in 2013 and 2014.

During discussion before the transit agency board voted unanimously to approve the contract, TriMet board member Joe Esmonde, who’s also political director at IBEW Local 48, called it a fair contract for all concerned. The four-year agreement took effect immediately, retroactive to Dec. 1, 2012. It runs through Nov. 30, 2016.

Photo: Northwest Labor Press


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