Like two squabbling siblings, TriMet’s management and the Amalgamated Transit Union have argued about every possible topic. The relationship is in serious need of adult supervision and repair — and in our view, the person to provide that intervention is Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The dysfunction between management and union leaders is affecting not just contract negotiations, but also TriMet’s policies, its image and potentially its service. The ongoing dispute has spilled into the Legislature, the courts and the public arena as the two sides have sought leverage by appealing to outside authorities and interests.

The situation might seem hopeless if it were not for evidence that — when fully pressured — the union and management can reach compromise, as they did in recent days when they agreed to new rules related to driver fatigue. Those policy changes came at the insistence of the TriMet board, which happens to be appointed by the governor.

Driver fatigue, however, is just one of numerous issues dividing management and the union. They also are negotiating a new contract only a few months after completing the last round of contentious talks, which stretched from 2009 to 2012. TriMet administrators are focused on the extraordinary cost of health care benefits for union workers, while the union has launched a public relations campaign in part to point out what it claims is excessive management spending.

None of this bickering is advancing the cause of an agency that’s critical for moving people in the state’s most populous region, and that’s why Kitzhaber should inject himself into the conversation. Not only does the governor appoint TriMet’s board, he also is a traditional friend to unions. In this case, his candidacy was supported by the ATU.

As he has done with proposed reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System, Kitzhaber can approach a touchy union subject with the credibility that comes from being a longtime friend to labor. In this case, he also has the advantage of being the ultimate boss of the TriMet board. That combination gives the governor a potential power over the TriMet dispute that no one else can wield.

This is a matter of high importance to approximately half of Oregon’s population. As such, it’s certainly worthy of Kitzhaber’s direct attention.

Contract Publishing

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