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TriMet and union continue sparring

The rhetoric over the stalled negotiations between TriMet and Amalgamated Transit Union 757 increased Thursday.

The actual salary and benefit dispute between the regional transit agency and the union representing most of its employees did not change much, however.

And TriMet has now gone on the attack to force ATU 757 to the negotiating table by filing labor complaint against it.

On Monday, the state Employment Relations Relation Board ruled in favor of ATU in a complaint filed during negotiations over the current contract. ERB upheld an administrative law judge’s earlier rulings that TriMet acted illegally when it froze wages and health insurance premiums in 2010.

In a Thursday press release headlined "ERB Orders TriMet Management to Make Employees Whole," ATU 757 said ERB found that TriMet had unlawfully changed the health insurance benefit without bargaining, or even communicating with the union.

TriMet responded that the ruling did not change the amount of money owed to the agency by its employees under the current contract that was approved by David Gaba, an aribrator selected by both sides. In response to questions about the ruling from the Portland Tribune, TriMet spokewoman Mary Fetsch issued the following statement:

"ERB’s 'make whole' award ... is to reimburse employees for insurance premiums they paid beginning January 1, 2011 through implementation of the new insurance plan awarded in July 2012. However, as ERB noted in footnote 14 on page 27 of its decision, as part of TriMet’s Last Best Offer awarded by Arbitrator Gaba, TriMet already will be reimbursing employees approximately $3.6 million for these premiums. However, under the same arbitration award, employees owe TriMet $10.4 million for implementation of the new insurance plan that is retroactive to December 2009. The ATU has interfered with TriMet’s implementation of the arbitration award. The net amount due TriMet is $6.8 million. ERB’s decision in UP39-10 has no effect on the net amount due TriMet. Because the ATU has interfered with TriMet’s efforts to implement the arbitration award by instructing its members not to cooperate, TriMet is seeking the $6.8 million from the ATU directly. A hearing on TriMet’s claim against the ATU for this money will be heard by ERB in Salem on January 8-10."

In the meantime, TriMet filed a complaint with ERB on Tuesday to require ATU 757 to come to the bargaining table and begin bargaining in good faith. According to the complaint, ATU 757 has skipped three scheduled negotiation sessions on the next contract.

ATU 757 is refusing to attend the sessions because TriMet will not agree to open them to the public. ATU 757 says the sessions are open to the public under the state Public Meetings Law, but TriMet disagrees. TriMet has said it is willing to discuss opeing them to the press, but ATU 757 says that does not go far enough.

TriMet has filed for a motion in Multnomah County Circuit Court asking for a declaratory judgement that the bargaining sessions are not public. ATU 757 responded that it believes the bargaining sessions are open to the public. The court has not yet heard the case.