ATU Local 757, Portland, OR

January 25th, 2012
Statement to the TriMet Board
By Jonathan Hunt, President

Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the TriMet Board. My name is Jonathan Hunt and I am the President of the Union representing TriMet employees, ATU 757.

TriMet claims it is facing a 2013 budget shortfall of 12 to 17 million dollars. Management talks about this all the time and is continually asking the public for help in determining how to cut costs. At the same time, TriMet has told the elderly and disabled community to expect future fare increases. They are scared because most of them are on fixed incomes. And more importantly, fare increases for this population of users is not necessary. What we see, is that TriMet’s ”oh we are so broke” campaign is merely a ruse to point fingers at TriMet union workers who TriMet claims are over paid.

What TriMet is keeping from the public is the fact that they could cut their projected budget shortfall by more than half, and do it today!

TriMet could save over 7 million dollars a year, according to an independent auditor’s report, by dumping the private contractors and performing the service in-house.

Private contractors are earning record high profits to provide paratransit services throughout TriMet’s tri-county area of operation. These contractors are getting fat at the taxpayers’ expense, and TriMet stands by and lets them get away with it. An independent audit was completed on February 20, 2008, and based on 2004/05 fiscal year figures, estimated an immediate, annual savings of nearly 4 million dollars if TriMet did away with contractors and operated the service directly.

A brief history for those Board members unfamiliar. For many years, the Union had argued with TriMet about how much it spent on private contractors to operate elderly and disabled transportation services. TriMet claimed it was cheaper to contract out for service, while the Union maintained it was more costly to provide the service through contractors, than it would be if TriMet operated the service itself.

The Union was successful in negotiating a provision into their 1998 collective bargaining agreement with TriMet, to jointly select an outside audit firm to conduct a thorough analysis of the cost to continue to subcontract paratransit services versus the cost to perform the service in-house. The parties further agreed that the Union and TriMet would jointly instruct and receive information from the audit firm selected to perform the analysis.

To condense the story at this point, I will just say that after several years; a grievance, unfair labor practice complaint and arbitration resulted in TriMet being ordered to move forward with the audit.

On February 20, 2008, the firm of Lauka & Associates, certified public accountants, issued its audit report and findings. Obviously, TriMet management did not like what the audit revealed. Based on 2004/05 fiscal year budget numbers, the most recent full year budget figures provided by TriMet at the time, the audit revealed that TriMet would save nearly 7 million taxpayer dollars annually, if they brought paratransit service in-house.

One can confirm the current estimated savings based on current TriMet budget numbers, by applying the same contract increases given by TriMet to contractors over the last six years.

TriMet cannot dispute the Lauka & Associates report in 2008 since it was based on information they, TriMet provided. Should TriMet dispute the current projected savings of over 7 million dollars, the solution is easy. Provide the audit firm with updated budget information, and since the audit model has already been created, current savings will be easy to calculate and give taxpayers a clear and true picture as to what TriMet could save by bringing paratransit services in-house.

And let’s look at another reason for TriMet to bring its paratransit operations in-house. In a Straight Talk show interview recently, TriMet General Manager McFarlane said that strikes don’t work for anyone. Yet, McFarlane has refused to force his paratransit contractors to arbitrate their current contract disputes as required by federal law, and strikes in over two thirds of TriMet’s service area could happen any day now. If McFarlane is going to “talk the talk” then he needs to “walk the walk”. Strikes would not be an option if paratransit services were performed in-house.

Another area where TriMet could immediately save taxpayers around 5 million dollars is to revert back to 2006 numbers of management positions at TriMet. It is estimated that new non-union positions at TriMet have grown by more than 128 since 2006, while the number of unionized jobs they supervise has remained fairly constant during the same period.

By bringing TriMet paratransit services in-house, and cutting the number of non-union positions at TriMet to 2006 levels, those two things alone would together save nearly 12 million taxpayer dollars and nearly erase TriMet’s entire 2013 projected budget shortfall. We are calling on the TriMet Board of Directors to take the lead and use the opportunities available to you to erase TriMet’s projected 2013 budget shortfall.

There is no need to scare the public any longer.

There is no need to increase rider fares.

Do the right thing and do it now!

The savings to taxpayers today, seven years later, will reach more than 7 million dollars. That’s right, more than 7 million taxpayer dollars could be saved right now by TriMet bringing the paratransit operation in-house. That is almost two-thirds of the 2013 budget shortfall is claiming.
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