ATU Local 757, Portland, OR

With First Transit Inc
New TriMet Lift agreements avert further strikes
By Jonathan Hunt, President

After more than 27 months of negotiations, numerous mediation sessions, and a one day strike, the Union and First Transit, Inc. has reached new tentative agreements for both Region 1 (Multnomah County) and Region 2 (Washington County) TriMet Lift contracts.

After negotiating for over two years, First Transit and the Union reached impasse over contract terms for employees providing elderly and disabled transportation services in Multnomah and Washington Counties for TriMet. Members of the Union twice voted by an overwhelming majority to reject the employer’s last offer and to approve strike sanction. After taking the last strike vote on May 8th, the employees went out on strike the following morning.

The potential strike could have been avoided, but TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane in a letter to the Union, refused to intervene. TriMet has a contract known as a Section 13c agreement with the Union which requires a contractor contracting with TriMet to arbitrate contract disputes. Under such agreement, which is tied to federal funding the transit agency receives, TriMet’s revenue contract with the private provider requires their compliance with all provisions of the Section 13c Agreement.

Shortly after First Transit, Inc. was awarded the Region 1 (Multnomah County) contract by TriMet in late 2009, then TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen threatened to cancel the contract before First Transit, Inc began operating it, because of First Transit’s failure to comply with the Section 13c. First Transit, Inc. in the last hours before losing the TriMet contract agreed to comply with the terms of the Section 13c Agreement and was allowed to commence operation of the service.

While TriMet workers as public employees are prohibited from striking under Oregon law, private contractors are prohibited from striking because of the Section 13c Agreement. TriMet’s refusal to enforce FirstTransit to arbitrate the dispute and avert a strike, is just one more example of the anti-union management-labor relations under McFarlane’s administration.

Then, the Region 2 (Washington County) TriMet Lift agreement between First Transit and the union expired on November 30, 2011. It did not take the parties long to reach impasse since First Transit took the same position as they had with the Region 1 (Multnomah County) negotiations.

Members from both Regions, by an overwhelming majority, gave Union leaders the authority to call a strike for the second time on May 8th. With about 125 members in Region 1 (Multnomah County) and about 115 members working in Region 2 (Washington County), all but two employees struck on May 9th. First Transit was only able to provide rides for clients with serious medical conditions through taxis and busses operated by supervisory personnel.

After pleas from Oregon State Senator Betsy Johnson, Oregon State Representative Brad Witt and former Portland City Councilman Charlie Hales to end the strike and return to the bargaining table, the Union agreed to return to work at normal times on May 10th. The needs of their passengers was the Union members’ primary reason for agreeing to end the strike.

After two days of bargaining with First Transit, which included a marathon bargaining session that concluded at 1am on Saturday, May 12th, the Union and First Transit reached a tentative deal on both Region 1 and Region 2 contracts with major points as outlined below.

Region 1 (Multnomah County)

Under the agreement reached, the new agreement runs through April 30, 2016. All fulltime employees will receive a contract ratification bonus of just over $800, and part-time employee bonus of approximately $420. The hourly wage rate for an operator who has five years of service on the date of ratification will increase from $20 an hour to $23.92 an hour on April 1, 2016.

On the date of ratification, an operator who was making $12.65 an hour, will see their hourly rate increase to $23.95 by the end of the new contract.

Another key point in negotiations was health insurance for fulltime employees. The Union wanted to reinstate the Kaiser medical insurance plan that was in place when First Transit took over the contract from MV Transportation in January 2010, with the employer paying 100 % of the premium cost for employee-only coverage. First Transit offered the Kaiser plan, but insisted on members paying 15% of the premium cost which represented about $95 a month. First Transit also offered a second Kaiser plan option, at no cost to the employees, with slightly less benefit coverage.

The parties agreed to both plans being offered, and in exchange for maintaining the level of benefits that were in place when First Transit assumed the contract in 2010, employees agreed to pay 1.5% of the premium cost effective April 1, 2013; a total of 3% of the premium cost effective April 1, 2015; and a total of 5% effective April 1, 2016. At today’s premium rates, a 1.5% increase represents an employee monthly cost of around $13 a month.

Employees retained the option to select the other plan, with less benefit coverage, at no cost to the employee for the life of the agreement. First Transit also agreed to continue paying 70% of the family premium costs for employees with three or more years service, and 80% of the family coverage for employees with ten or more years of service. Also, effective April 1, 2016, all part-time employees will begin receiving 50% of all fulltime benefits.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the new agreement provides that except for the above described changes, all other contract language that was contained in the MV Transportation contract that expired on November 30, 2009, remain in effect. First Transit, from the beginning of negotiations, had proposed a wholesale change of most contract language to mirror the Region 2 contract, which Region 1 members vigorously opposed.

Region 2 (Washington County)

The contract between the Union and First Transit covering Region 2 (Washington County) TriMet Lift employees expired on November 30, 2011. The new agreement will expire on May 30, 2016.

All fulltime employees will receive a contract ratification bonus of $360, and part-time employee bonus of approximately $180. The hourly wage rate for an operator who has five years of service on the date of ratification will increase from $21.23 an hour to $24.59 an hour on January30, 2016.

On the date of ratification, an operator who was making $12.92 an hour, will see their hourly rate increase to $24.59 by the end of the new contract.

Under the new agreement, Region 2 (Washington County) members will retain the option to continue with their current Kaiser plan benefits, with the same employee premium costs as provided for in the Region 1 (Multnomah County) agreement. Region 2 (Washington County) employees will pay 1.5% of the premium cost effective April 1, 2013; a total of 3% of the premium cost effective April 1, 2015; and a total of 5% effective April 1, 2016. And as with the Region 1 contract, a 1.5% increase represents an employee monthly cost of around $13 a month, but also does not become effective until April 1, 2013.

Employees also retained the option to select the other plan, with less benefit coverage, at no cost to the employee for the life of the agreement. First Transit also agreed to continue paying 70% of the family premium costs for employees with three or more years service, and 80% of the family coverage for employees with ten or more years of service. First Transit also agreed to continue paying 50% of the part-time employee only premium as the contract current requires.

Except for some minor work rule language changes, all other provisions of the expired Region 2 (Washington County) contract remaining effectively unchanged.

At the time this article went to publication, Region 1 (Multnomah County) and Region 2 (Washington County) members had yet to vote on the new tentative agreements.

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