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Thursday, October 24, 2013

BRUCE HANSEN SAYS BART STRIFE SHOULD BE CAUTIONARY TALE FOR TRIMET

“The tragedy of two deaths in the San Francisco BART strike has its origins in the same management attitudes we see demonstrated by TriMet’s top level management,” says Bruce Hansen, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union. He’s referring to the death of two BART workers, struck by a train being operated by a manager driving during a labor strike. The BART workers were on strike primarily because of work rule changes, benefit takeaways and safety issues. That strike ended last night when the company and the union reached a tentative agreement.

The strike happened because BART’s management team proposed many changes in work rules and employee benefits. Just like TriMet, the management team contended that the transit agency’s workers held relatively unskilled positions, were overpaid, and did not deserve their benefits. “When I read BART’s public relations push, I thought I was reading a Portland newspaper,” says Hansen.
“TriMet’s latest, drive-the-bus-around-the-parking-lot public relations ploy is an attempt to make the public think bus driving is easy.” Hansen said. “That’s like saying just because a five-year-old can steer the family car around an empty lot, that same child can drive on city streets.”  He notes that both the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Institutes of Health studies rank the transit operator job at the top when it comes to occupational disease, injuries, assaults, disability and death.

For the first time, Hansen is going public with what has been happening at the bargaining table. “We met for 20 days. We didn’t bargain. Instead, managers used 18 of those days explaining their takeaway proposals.” Hansen says the managers’ proposed takeaways degrade every aspect of the workers’ employment, not just wages and benefits but their rights as well.

“Even worse,” says Hansen, “TriMet’s managers are only on page 90 of their 170-page proposal.” Hansen reports the managers have, so far, explained over 100 takeaways. He said, “That number is so far outside the norm that we have repeatedly asked TriMet to schedule an extra number of bargaining days. Thus far, they have refused.”

When asked why TriMet seems intent on degrading the quality of TriMet’s workplace environment, Hansen said, “The recession emboldened highly paid managers in corporations and public agencies to attack their own workforces. That seems to be what happens in organizations whenever there is gross inequality in incomes. The workers’ expertise and contribution go unrecognized by management. Nationally that unhelpful attitude is being increasingly discredited. We hope that a fair, compassionate and respectful attitude will begin to prevail. In the meantime, we will continue to inform the public about TriMet’s safety and other problems that need to be addressed.”

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