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TriMet asks for contract mediation

TriMet has requested mediation to negotiate a new contract with the union representing most of its employees.

TriMet Executive Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources Randy Stedman wrote a letter to the state’s Employment Relations Board on Wednesday requesting a mediator be assigned to help the two parties reach a settlement.

“After 34 bargaining sessions and agreement on many work rule and working condition provisions, we’ve been unable to reach agreement on our core issue of wages and benefits, and have requested that ERB assign a mediator to help the parties move forward,” Stedman said.

The request was made one day after TriMet and Amalgamated Transit Union 757 passed the 150-day mark in their talks. That is when the state's collective bargaining law allows either side to request mediation.

According to TriMet, the core issues remain active and retiree healthcare costs. TriMet insists it cannot continue paying 100 percent of the premium cost for its platinum-level healthcare benefits for active employees and retirees and continue to fund them for another 16 years for surviving spouses and dependents.

As proof, TriMet notes a recent audit by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office said TriMet’s “most serious and looming concern” is related to the cost of healthcare benefits and the $852 million unfunded liability for retiree health care. TriMet says it is working to reform these benefits through contract negotiations to be in line with peer agencies

The most recent labor contract expired on Nov. 30, 2012, and by law union members cannot strike. If a settlement cannot be negotiated, a state-approved arbitrator will select and imposed one of the party’s proposal through binding interest arbitration. That is what happened with the most recent contact.