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Judge cannot decide whether TriMet labor negotiations open

TriMet's labor negotiations with the union representing most of its employees was thrown into confusion Thursday when a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge could not decide whether the negotiating sessions should be open to the public.

In a 14-page opinion, Judge Leslie Roberts said it is not clear whether the negotiating sessions are covered by state public employee collective bargaining laws or open meetings law. She has asked TriMet and Amalgated Transit Union 757 to submit information that clarifies the role of TriMet’s general manager, labor relations director and bargaining team in the collective bargaining process.

The ruling means negotiating sessions will not be scheduled on the next labor contract. A state arbitrator imposed TriMet's last contract office on the union late last year. Although ATU 757 is challenging the ruling before the state Employment Relations Board, TriMet is proceedings as if that ruling is in effect. As a result, ATU 757 members are paying a percent of the health benefits for the first time.

“Rather than clearing the way for new contract talks to move forward, the judge’s opinion indicates that TriMet’s process for negotiations remains murky and confusing. That confusion left the judge unable to make a decision without first obtaining additional information,” ATU 757 President Bruce Hansen said in a prepared statement.

TriMet did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ATU 757 had asked the court to declare the bargaining sessions open to the public. TriMet responded that stae law does not require them to be open. Both parties had asked Judge Roberts for a summary judgement in their favor. Todays ruling mean the case will continue to be argued before the court.