Even Portland’s Model Transit System Has Labor Disputes

Rail~volution’s participants were treated to a whole series of workshops titled “Portland: How Did We Do It?” on the last day of the four-day conference. The sessions touted Portland’s excellence on everything from regional partnerships to bike innovations to Metro. But outside the conference, just as TriMet’s General Manager took the stage, dozens of picketing transit union members reminded us that all is not rosy in Portland transit-land.

TriMet employees have been working without a contract for nearly a year. ##http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/10/trimet_employees_protest_at_ra.html##The Oregonian##
TriMet employees have been working without a contract for nearly a year. ##http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/10/trimet_employees_protest_at_ra.html##The Oregonian##

Contract negotiations between TriMet and the union are stalled, nearly a year after the previous contract expired. President Jonathan Hunt said that binding arbitration with TriMet has yielded nothing but impasses and retaliation. The union filed an unfair labor practice complaint last month with the state Employment Relations Board, charging that TriMet was bargaining in bad faith.

Now that TriMet is telling workers and retirees they’ll have to pay their own health insurance, Hunt wants to take action. He said his members have already made big sacrifices to keep the health care and it shouldn’t be taken away. “We took wage freezes; we took rollbacks,” he said.

But the union won’t go on strike, Hunt said, because the consequences for riders would be too severe. “When we walk, everybody walks.” (In any case, it’s against Oregon law for them to strike.)

This was new to me: Hunt said the transit sector faces higher rates of disability than any other industry. “People don’t recognize,” he said, “that a transit operator in their normal daily operation is equivalent to a firefighter or a police officer in their 911 mode. There’s a lot of stress.”

All the more reason, he added, for TriMet to negotiate in good faith. “[The workers] lived up to their agreement,” he said. “Now TriMet needs to do the same.”

  • Bob Davis

    Many years ago I read a book titled “War Against the Automobile”, which among other things, lists the reasons why cars are so popular. One of them was that automobile drivers aren’t dependent on vehicles operated by transit-union members. “Who goes on strike against himself?” As a corollary, it mentioned that drivers are voluntary, unpaid chauffeurs, eliminating on of the major expenses in running a transit system.

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TriMet's Neil McFarlane is perfectly willing to undermine transit with highway expansions. His agency will get a light rail expansion in the bargain. Photo:  Bike Portland

Why Is Portland’s Transit Chief Advocating for More Highways?

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After suffering an embarrassing defeat a year ago, the Oregon highway lobby is rattling the can for more money again. They have a list of highways they want to widen, and they say Portland's economy depends on it. In addition to the usual suspects, the highway cheerleaders include Neil McFarlane, general manager of TriMet, the regional transit agency.