TriMet's union says it wants to start contract negotiations now, even though a judge has not yet ruled whether the bargaining sessions must be open to the public.

Transit agency officials welcomed the move.

Officials with Amalgamated Transit Union 757 have refused to attend bargaining sessions on the next contract because TriMet would not open them to the public. The union says state law requires them to be public, but TriMet disagrees.

The question is the subject of a request for declaratory judgement before Multnomah Circuit Court Judge Leslie Roberts. But even though Roberts has not yet issued a ruling, ATU 757 President Bruce Hansen sent TriMet a letter on Monday saying the union is ready to begin negotiations.

"Given the intensity of the media spotlight over the past several months, we believe that the public expects to see real solutions emerge from our upcoming negotiations. We also believe that the parties must begin bargaining prior to resolution of the legal issues before Multnomah County Circuit Court. Simply put: What was supposed to be an expedited process has turned out not to be," Hansen said in an April 8 letter to Randy Stedman, TriMet's director of labor relations.

“We are encouraged by the ATU’s willingness to negotiate the next contract and we are hopeful that they are committed to substantive bargaining,” Stedman wrote in his reply. “This represents a welcome change by the ATU as negotiations have been at a standstill for several months.”

In the letter, Hansen said both sides must be prepared to bargain on weekend and weeknights. Union bylaws require that 18 union members attend the sessions, and they must do so in their off-hours to reduce costs to the union.

TriMet did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, TriMet officials have said they were willing to allow members of the press into the sessions.

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