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New Oregon Bill Seeks to Add Other Alternatives to Binding Arbitration for TriMet Workers

Friday, January, 25, 2013


After legislation that passed the Oregon courts in 2007 enforcing a no-strike status for public transit workers, a new bill is now taking aim at the ability of unionized bus drivers to use binding arbitration as their only means to settle disputes over contract negotiations. 

TriMet, Oregon’s largest transit agency, is facing a crisis concerning providing health benefits and salaries for its workers.  TriMet’s management claims that arbitration allows unionized workers to walk away from the negotiating table knowing that arbitration will likely rule in their favor, and halts further compromise that might occur without binding arbitration.  Therefore, House Bill 2196, sponsored by the House Interim Committee on Transportation and Economic Development, has reached the table and is a bill that will once again provide public transit workers the right to strike, to give them an alternative to binding arbitration.

According to State Representative Tobias Read, "TriMet is interested in this happening and we want to make sure the issue gets a fair hearing."  Although public safety workers, such as mechanics and bus drivers, have not been able to strike since the 2007 bill passed state legislation, TriMet believes that in giving workers the right to strike, some type of balance would be restored during times that are economically difficult for everyone. 

TriMet’s most recent arbitration hearing occurred in 2012, when Amalgamated Transit Union 757 brought an arbitration dispute concerning health benefits before arbitrator David M. Gaba.  The transit company’s final best offer was chosen to settle the dispute; however, the Amalgamated Transit Union informed its members to not comply with the arbitrator’s rulings until all attempts at an appeal have been made. 

According to Mary Fetsch, a TriMet spokeswoman, "Collective bargaining has worked for the past 40 years, and TriMet has never had a strike.  We are seeking a contract that is fair, with benefits in line with other public-sector employees, and that also allows us to reform outdated work rules."