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Update • Union suspends strike

TriMet service for elderly and disabled passengers was disrupted Wednesday when most of the drivers contracted through the private First Transit company went on strike.

The disruptions temporarily affect service in Multnomah and Washington counties. The strike was suspended later in the day.

TriMet contracts with First Transit to operate its LIFT program, which is mandated by the federal Americans With Disabilities Act to provide transit service to passengers who cannot use the agency's regular buses and trains due to a disability or disabling health condition.

Two-thirds of the First Transit drivers are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 that also represents drivers employed by TriMet.

"It is regrettable that the ATU 757 is leaving the most vulnerable riders stranded," TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane said in a prepared statement. "We hope that First Transit and the ATU will return to the bargaining table and resolve their dispute"

According to TriMet, because of the strike, the LIFT program is only able to provide life-sustaining trips. This is being done through non-union operators and contracts with local taxi companies. LIFT provides about 3,800 trips a day. Roughly 800 of those are considered life-sustaining trips.

First Transit is a global company with corporate offices in Scotland. In a prepared statement, ATU 757 described First Transit as a 'foreign company' that was not fairly sharing its contract payments from TriMet with its employees. According to the statement, although First Transit's contract with TriMet is increasing 5 percent a year, the company is only offering its employees a 2 percent raise.

'This foreign corporation is sucking huge profits out of the community and sending those profits overseas while the folks who work and live in the community are being shafted,' ATU 757 President Jonathan Hunt. 'And TriMet is standing by and allowing them to get away with it.'

According to Hunt, TriMet should pressure First Transit to resolve the dispute through arbitration.

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