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I am writing in response to The Oregonian editorial "Get rid of binding arbitration" (Jan. 20), which calls for the Legislature to repeal the law that bars transit workers from striking and mandates binding arbitration to settle disputes. It is difficult to understand why anyone would want a TriMet work stoppage given the snail's pace of this region's economic recovery and the harm it would bring to so many people. Binding arbitration prevents more than the loss of a "ride across town." A transit strike or lockout brings consequences.
Companies lose hours of productivity, businesses lose customer purchases, passengers lose wages, travelers are stranded, people cannot get food or make medical appointments. And, TriMet loses fare revenue.
The current argument calling for a strike or lockout relies on beliefs contrary to the facts. The delay in reaching final settlement was not caused by binding arbitration. It happened because TriMet did not engage in good faith bargaining. It is bad faith bargaining for a union or employer to make one proposal at the bargaining table and then use a different proposal to cause a work stoppage or take before an arbitrator. TriMet did this not once, but twice. It was the agency's persistent bad faith bargaining that caused the delay.
Had this bad faith bargaining led to a strike or lockout, the cost to the taxpayers would be even greater. In addition to lost fare revenue, TriMet also would have been ordered to pay the transit workers' lost wages. This additional cost was avoided because binding arbitration was used instead.
Clearly, TriMet's management team and its workers have a bad relationship. There is no quick fix. Forcing the parties to be even more adversarial will not improve things. Our union represents people working for 20 different employer groups; yet, it finds that only TriMet's actions repeatedly obstruct progress. Why is that? We believe a pattern of disrespect and unfair dealing has taken hold. It arises whenever anyone questions the agency's actions. This is true whether the questioners are the agency's workers, passengers, citizens, neighborhood advocates, the mayor of Portland or even a reporter seeking answers to hard questions.
We do not know if we will win our legal challenge to the award by arbitrator David Gaba, which allowed TriMet to recoup three years of health insurance costs from the workers. We do know that the award repeatedly raised questions about the legality of TriMet's actions. What the public also needs to know is that transit workers are working under the conditions imposed by the Gaba award, and they are currently paying more for their health insurance than most local public employees.
It is not common for the Employment Relations Board to rule against employers. In 2010 and 2011 there were 27 claims made by and against employers. The Board found for the employers in 78 percent of them. So while the board has repeatedly found TriMet in violation of the law, that is not evidence of overall pro-union bias. Instead, what those rulings tell us is that this particular agency is a repeat offender. In such a circumstance, it cannot be right to blame the victim.
Finally, the workers who keep the buses and trains moving every day know that they must make financial sacrifices to repair the agency. But that agency must change. It has to become an agency of which they can be proud. TriMet must begin to treat its workers, its passengers and its community with respect. It must put safety first and service a close second. And, it must stop wasting the taxpayers' money.