Monday, March 24, 2014
Fascinating interview with Ron Heinztman
Interview with Ron Heintzman - Portland Afoot
This interview with Ron Heintzman, ATU Local 757 presidential candidate in June 2012, was conducted May 31 and excerpted in a blog post and in Portland Afoot's 10-minute newsmagazine for June 2012.
Portland Afoot editor Michael Andersen: You were first president in 88, right?
Ron Heintzman: Yes, in 1988.
PA: How did that go down? What was your introduction to the leadership?
RH: I had been in the transit police dept at trimet, as a transit police officer, and in 1988, prior to that, we were experiencing a lot of problems with our small department. And that kind of gave me the push to run for office, because we tried to make some changes and we just weren't very successful.
PA: What were the changes?
RH: Just working conditions. We thought we needed. .. what we thought at the time is that the union was not responsive to us because w ere such a small dept compared to the majority of poepe who were bus drivers. That was really the catalyst for me to get involved. So I decided we needed to change things and needed to get involved. So I decided to run. I had never had a union position before. I ran for union president and was elected in july of 88.
PA: Cool. And just out of the blue. Had you been on the executive board
RH: No. I had held no position with ATU at all. Back then, of course, up to July of 1988, the real concern among trimet and their passengers was safety. And of course that was my specialty, being in the transit safety department. So we had a lot of ideas of imporvemsnts that needed to be made to be sure the transit system was safe. And I think that was one of the things that kind of put me up in a position where I could be electable.
PA: What were those improvements?
RH: One, we felt that TriMet needed to have more dedicated transit police. At that time I think we had 15, and with all the problems with TriMet systems, that just didn't seem to be enough.
PA: And how many of them are there now? There are like, dozens.
RH: Well, of course it transferred to the Portland Police Bureau in '89. And the last thing I saw on TV was a report that there's up to around 60.
PA: That sounds right.
RH: And I'm sure that's probably still not enough.
PA: Yeah. I didn't realize that the cops were paid by TriMet. They were all TriMet instead of being on contract.
RH: In fact, when I went back to work in 1982, I was a transit police officer. Of course, mass transit districts in the state of oregon hav ethe authority to hire sworn police officers just like the city or municipality. So they were lal sworn police officres. They had to meet the same requirements as Portland police officers or any sheriff's office in the state. They were all trained at the police academy. And so that was in place probably about 10 years. And then when I took over as president in 1988, we had negotiations the following year, 1989. And the TriMet general manager at the time, James Cowen, approached me with the interest of subcontracting with the Portland Police Bureau. He just always had a problem with the bus companies being in the police business. And I too had some frustrations and some of the folks in the transit police unit as far as the supervisoin. They were being supervised by people who really had no expertise in law enforcement. And they thought they were just spinning their wheels in a lot of respects, taking direction from people who were probably good at their own fields of finance or administration but not having the professional background. But so we were able to reach an agreement where we entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Portland. Of course, the state laws were such – and they're still that way today – that if one public entity absorbs the functions of another entity, that certain rights are brought forward. For example, pension, retirement, health insurance, things like that. Seniority. So when we agreed to allow them to transfer that function to the Portland Police Bureau, then all those police officers were brought over.
PA: What was your background before joining TriMet?
RH: Actually, I was in college. I was in ROTC. I was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant back in 1975. I served two years of active duty in military police. I served that time in Fort Hood, Texas. After my active duty service, I went to work for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. And I served as a liquor agent there from about 1977 to 1982, when I went to work for TriMet.
PA: And then you did police academy after that and so on and were put in...
RH: I actually did the police academy when I was at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
PA: Oh, are those sworn officers?
RH: They're peace officers. Pretty much the same thing, there's just a little difference in stature. I think the only difference between a police officer and a peace officer is that a peace officer cannot obtain a warrant. At least back then, that was the primary difference. And at the same time I had attended Washington State University, graduated in 1975, and then I attended when I was working for the liquor control commission, I went back to the university of Portland and got my master's degree in '82.
PA: In what?
RH: Criminal justice.
PA: So then you were elected in '88, remained president through '02.
RH: Right. I was elected to five terms. The terms were all three years. And then in August of 2002, I was appointed international vice president. And that role, I primarily worked in the western part of the United States. And the primary function of the international vice president is assisting locals in negotiating their collective bargaining agreements. In the ATU, there's about 300 locals within the United States and Canada, so there's 16 international vice presidents in the US and two in Canada. So I stayed in that, I was appointed in August of 2002, and then I ran for election at two subsequent conventions and then in June of 2009, I was appointed executive vice president. I moved back to Washington, to washington DC in the No. 2 position. I stayed in that position until July of 2010 when the international president at the time, Warren George, decided to step down. That was three months before the convention, in September, so I became the international president in July of 2010 and then I lost the election on September 30 of that year.
PA: Yeah. And George appointed you to the vice president position as well, initially?
RH: No. Jim Lasalle, James Lasalle, was the international president at the time. He's the one who appointed me.
PA: George's predecessor?
PA: And there was also this election in '01, where you initially lost but then that was thrown out?
RH: That was in 2000. In 2000, I lost in a runoff to Wally Feist by I think 9 or 14 votes. And members subsequently filed a challenge. The challenge was based on there were new employees who had come to work at TriMet who were not allowed to vote. And according to the DOL, it appeared that they should have had the right to vote. So the local first had to come back to the election whether to redo that election, and that happened – it passed by a very slim margin – and then the international ordered that a new election be held. This was all within a time frame of about 90 days.
PA: So why should you be president?
RH: Well, I think you look around the country rigiht now, you look at Wisconsin, you look at Ohio, public-sector unions particularly are under attack. I think we're going to see more right-to-work legislation come out in states you probably never would have expected it to be introduced in. I know in the past they've tried it here in the state of oregon and were unsuccessful, but that's not going to stop them. I'm sure they're going to be back. But I look at that situation and it's pretty similar to the local here in Portland. I look at all the contracts that the local has, which is about 23, and rigiht now I think there's something like 12 open, and within the next few months there's going to be more. And some of these have been open for a long period of time and the reason for that is that they haven't been able to settle. And it's getting tougher. Almost every employer says that the economics of the day don't warrant any types of increases. In fact, most of the employers are coming to the bargaining table with takeaways. And that's the same here. Since I've been back since October of 2010, I've been doing some part-time work for the local and attending hearings, arbitrations and some negotiations. And I'm seeing it's tough. It's really tough right now. The thing that was really alarming to me, though, is the relationship the union has with TriMet. I've been there since I went to work at TriMEt in 82, so I've been there for 30 years, and I've been there under four different managers. And I have to say that we had some difficult times throughout that 30-year time period. But for the most part, we were always able to get to a deal or get to where labor relations were back on track and people were working for much benefit. I see the current leadership as the most anti-union in the entire history. And I feel strongly about that. I think the current general manager, Neil McFarlane, is a nice guy, but he's in the wrong job. Back in 2009, I believe when Fred Hansen informed me that he was stepping down and that Neil McFarlane's going to take his position, my first response to Fred was, who? And then he explained to me that he comes from the planning department, had been in capital projects. Like I said, nice person, probably those jobs he did extremely well. But he's just not cut out to be GM. He doesn't know how to work the bus. And when your largest part of your workforce is union, you see the obvious important priority that you want to try and establish. What I see as the problem is because he has no experience, I don't think personally he's that strong that sometimes you might have to be to be the general manager of TriMet. And so he's relying on his senior subordinates. And most of them are extremely anti-union. They've been anti-union as long as they've been at TriMet. Some have been there for a while. The difference is between now and the prior general managers, the prior general managers being Fred Hansen and Tom Walsh, that they had to at least have some type of relationship with the union, and they were both political and they understood the process. And they've been there before. And so while we did have our disputes from time to time, at the end of the day they knew that to continue a fight with the union was not in their best interest. And especially if they wanted to continue to operate the system, now TriMet's been judged as one of the best TriMet systems in the country. And we attribute that to the worksers. They're the people who made it. Those are the people the passengers interact with on a daily basis. So that's the difference between the current administration and the administration in the past. We don't have a leader, and he's kind of let his subordinates make the decisions. They're – as I've said before and I'll continue to say – they're extremely anti-union. So we're in for battle. This current contract dispute, I think that's just a start. So when people ask me why am I running for president, my first response is that I really have not planned on it, no intentions to come back and run. But I see how dangerous things look at TriMet in respect to wages and benefits as we've been able to negotiate over the last 30 years. And TriMet has vowed to take those away. And had they approached it like most folks would have and said we need to see some changes long term, we would have been able to say, okay, we can do this, we can step in this. That's how we make change. You don't make substantial change with one swoop. And that's what this administration has tried to do in the present contract dispute. We've been at this for almost three years. I can tell you that numerous negotiation sessions, we actually offered more than what the parties presented during the arbitration proceeding. But the problem was that that was never enough. They wanted insurance reform, they wanted wage reform, they wanted pension reform, and I kept saying at the time, you know, McFarlane, I said, You can't expect to get all of those in one swoop. You have to be practical. You have to be realistic. The membership is not going to stand for that. If you want to find some reasonable ways, we're willing. But as long as you continue to take those positions, we're not ever going to get to a point.
PA: I want to get to the details of the contract, but I want to follow up on some things you said. So you see McFarlane as more of an engineer? I sometimes feel like he sees the union as basically a source of inefficiency in the system. Like, why don't people just take the wages that are offered, and...
RH: Right. He sees things exactly as an engineer. Black and white, there's no grey area. And I think his background at TriMet, I mean, he was in engineering and planning and capital projects. It's a whole different world when you're put into the top position where 2500 of your employees belong to a union. You have to find a way to work with them, even though you might not like it and you might not like the people who are in charge, you have to find a way or else that's not going to be successful.
PA: Would you dispute that the union has a very good contract? From my perspective, I'll say, it seems to me that the union has a great deal. And there's no shame in that, the union's negotiated a good deal. Because of the work you've put in over the years, you've been unusually successful at getting these great benefits on the contract. And obviously anybody in those shoes would fight to keep what they've got. But would you agree with the premise that this is an excellent contract right now?
RH: Oh, I would say that it is. And I would say, correctly as you stated, I've negotiated those contracts since '88. The one thing that infuriates me though is that in the current dispute is talking about insurance. And TriMet is first to say they've got the best insurance in the entire country. That's not true.
PA: But how could it be better?
RH: Well, there's different programs. There's some programs that don't even have a $5 copay. But the point that needs to be made is that you can't just pick one part of the compensation package out. You have to look at the whole package. And you have to look at wages, you have to look at insurance, sick leave, vacation, pension. That's the only way you're going to get a true apples to apples. So for Neil McFarlane and his staff to be saying, oh, they've got the best in the country, it's not true and it's not a fair representation. Now one thing – and I've said this long – people who drive bus for 20 or 25 years tend to have lots of medical issues. They have back problems, all types of problems. Urinary problems. And in fact once you look at people once they work 20, 25 years and retire, we have a high mortality rate. They don't live that long afterwards. So back starting in '88, when we went to the bargaining talbe for the first time, our priority was in getting the best benefits for our people. And I'm talking insurance. So you can look back at those five collective bargaining agreements back to 1988 and you can compare if you want to, like Neil McFarlane's been doing, say, oh, look at the state employee wages compared to ours. Well, if you look at them, you'll see that they got higher percentage increases than we did. The reason is because we chose to take less in wages and less in other areas to focus on the health insurance. Because we know for the people we represent that's the most important thing for them, is to have health insurance. Because they're going to need it, especially when they get older. So that's why we did what we did. And I call that smart bargaining. Because we were more concerned about the people. And so now, there's enough studies that have been done that really clearly illustrate that driving a bus for 20, 25 years is a real hazard.
PA: Yeah, that makes sense. I looked at the compensation of the 25 bus agencies the closest in size to TriMet – figuring, you know, it's harder to drive a bus in a big city than in a small town and so on – in terms of wages, TriMet was a little bit below average. In terms of the health care per worker, it was a little bit above average. The thing that doesn't measure is the post-employment health care. And that's one of the things that TriMet's most remarkable, you know, providing the same deal for retirees after they retire at 55 after 10 years of service they always mention. And those are the costs that terrify me as a transit rider and somebody who's thinking about the future of transit service. Every single year that goes by, we've got $75 million in further obligations stacking up. It's going to be a billion dollars or so in the new audit later this year, that TriMet has completely failed to save any money for. That's not the workers' fault that the agency has failed to save any money to pay the workers, and the way that it can change is either they cut those promises out of the workers' contract, or they reduce those promises and raise taxes, or they just raise taxes more, or they cut service. It seems like it has to come out of one of htose three things.
RH: I would agree with you in respect that part of trimet's problem, probably the majority of their problem is poor management. I think that's very reflective. If you look at the last two years, some of the stupid decisions that have come out of Neil McFarlane's administration, it would make one think. But again, it comes back to okay, let's say that trimet really – and I don't agree completely that they're as bad off as they claim. I've been here a long time. I can remember in '85, we had to take a 5% wage rollback that we never got back. 5%. We didn't realize until the next contract that we were in dispute, we were able to get public documents, we found that back in 1985, all union employees got a 5% wage (de)crease, seven months later, TriMet management gave themselves a 10% wage increase. 1992, they were screaming poverty even more than we are today. If you rememeber, we almost went on strike in 1992. They said they have never been that devastated in terms of financial. Every time I've gone to the bargaining talbe with them, I hear that same story. So next one comes up, and I remember of course Fred Hansen was still the general manager. And I was back in Washington at the time. And Fred called me and said he was going to be back there and would like to get together and chat. So of course we'd worked together, and we knew each other through work. And he started laying the same crap on me. And I said, c'mon, Fred, get off of this shit. You've done this every time you've come to the table. Now, I said, if you legitimately have a problem, we can try and work something out. But get off this idea that you're going to make all these whole-scale changes because your people screwed up. It's not going to happen. And I said, so if you have some reasonable things – now, I think if Fred had stayed, we would have had this thing settled, because that's the difference between him and McFarlane. He knows at some point you've got to get to a deal. McFarlane doesn't understand that. I don't think he has the capacity.
PA: But the money has to come from somewhere. People who are watching, I think, appreciate that you've got a good point on the history here. But the problem is that the operating budget is 300, 400 million, and the annual deficit is 75 million. And that's just to keep up with the current obligations, right? That's just to keep up. So even if they could, like, cut that in half. Even if they could cut the retiree benefits so much that they cut that in half. That would still be three size of the service cuts we're getting this year. The fare hikes. That would be colossal.
RH: If you believe that they're as financially distraught as they claim. Now I can tell you we just went through the four days of hearings. And on the last day, they took full days to do their presentation. They brought in militia, I mean it was unbelievable. But the final witness on their side was their finance person. And they admitted that they had a balanced budget.
PA: That doesn't include the OPEB, though.
RH: But that's because, if you look at that, they had a responsibility to start looking at that back. So look at who's responsible, I think TriMet. There's no question that they are having some finanical problems. So what's the best way to resolve it? So the employees who have worked for 30-plus years should just give it all up because TriMet management is incompetent and they screwed things up? I mean, let's get to the paratransit. Now here's something. This is another example here. For years, we always said to TriMet, you're spending too much on paratransit. You need to bring it in house. TriMet would always say you're full of crap. We're paying a lot less, it's much cheaper to subcontract. So in 1998, I luckily convinced Tom Walsh to put a provision in the contract that says the parties mutually agree to pick an independent audit firm and conduct the audit.
PA: So I read the audit. And it seemed to me that from reading the audit, TriMet's critique of this is accurate, that the audit was comparing apples to oranges. It was looking at the cost of a front-line employee and comparing that to the fully-loaded cost of the contractor which includes management and support and all that stuff.
RH: What that brought out was if you brought them all up to speed at TriMet wages, benefits, which was never the proposal, or you take them as they were in 2004, which was the last budget year, if you take them how they were and just bring them over, the auditing firm found that if you just brought it over, they would save over $3 million. That was back on 2004 numbers.
PA: But that doesn't include any of the management cost of supporting those extra employees, right?
RH: Yes it does. And that's the dispute right now that TriMet has come out. Instead of going back to that audit firm that was independent – see remember in the past we'd always had the problem TriMet would do theirs, we'd do ours – so we got them to agree, now, remember we put that 1998 agreement, it took us almost 8 years before, 'cause we had to sue 'em to even perform the audit. Once Tom Walsh I believe who was in charge of that agreed, his management staff went bezerk. And then they refused to comply. So we filed unfair labor practice, we had to go to the Employment Relations Board, and they had to compel them to actually perform the audit. The relevant part of that audit is that based on 2004 figures, they could save $3.2 million by just bringing in-house. And that took into account supervision, everything. So now we're here and what we said to TriMet when we brought it up was we said you could probably save $7-plus million today by just bring it in-house. Now all Neil MCFarlane keeps responding back is, well if we bring 'em in house, they get paid, I say get off that crap. We're not saying bring 'em in and be paid the same as TriMet. Other places around the country where we brought in paratransit, we brought 'em in at where they're at and then slowly over time, slowly tried to improve and bring 'em up. But our proposal, so he comes back to no, no, 'Our staff looked...' And remember that was the problem before 1988. We could never rely on their staff figures, they could never rely on ours. That's why we all agreed and picked and they provided the numbers. So what we said to TriMet a few months back, all right, this study was based on 2004 budget. Let's recommission the auditor indpendent and give him the new numbers, through 2011. And let's come up with a report. They refused to. You know why they refused to? Because they knew damn well that his report would come back and find that they could save $7 million.
PA: Why wouldn't they want to save that money?
RH: Because they don't want to get out of the paratransit subcontract business. Let me tell you, in 1994, Tom Walsh was general manager. I actually during the contract negotiations, we got him to agree to bring paratransit in-house and we even went as far as we came up with the wages because we just (inaudible). And that was another example of after we had reached that tenatitive agreement, he came back and said, do you know how much politics is involved in that? Do you realize how many politically powerful people in this community and we're going to take the profits away from these private providers?
PA: Yeah, well, that's either Peter or Paul, right?
RH: That's right. But you'd think that if they were serious instead of having their staff – and you understand that their staff has done their own audit, and that really is worthless, because we all agreed, in fact after we finally had to take them into court and sue them, then the big thing was we all had to agree on the parameters. And you can bet your life that TriMet, that their top people were involved in every goddamn step, and only when we all agreed, that's when the study went forward.
PA: So if you're right about the LIFT issue, and despite management's objectives to your interpretation of it, you may well be right. If that's the case, we're still talking about less than 10% of this essentially the deficit we're borrowing from the future of TriMet. And everyone's borrowing from it. The riders are borrowing from it when they ride, the drivers are borrowing from it when they're in the seat. Everybody's doing it. And where does the rest of that money come from? Are there other things you can identify that are able to be solved in the time frame? Considering this is 10% and it's taken you 10 years to even start talking about that, how are you ever going to address the other 90% without a massive cut to service or to workers' benefits or to taxpayers?
RH: Well, I think this. I think if you assume that what TriMet is telling you is true, which I don't, so if you assume, my response is...
PA: The $75 million, that's an outside auditor. That's not TriMet either.
RH: Right, right. So they're telling the public that 2013, they've got a 12-17 million shortfall. Well, right there I see the paratransit as $7 million.
PA: That's a short-term issue. I'm trying to distinguish between the short-term 12/15 – and I think there's fudge room on that – but there's not fudge room on the $75 million a year.
RH: If you're asking me, do I agree that because TriMet's found itself in the situation, and that the taxpayers in the system want to continue the same level of service without the funding, should our people take the fall? No. Absolutely not. Are we willing to try and work with you to try and reduce some of the cost? Yes. But we're not going to be the scapegoat. So if people think that well, you know, by god because they want to continue the level of service that the public does not finance, and I've seen this around the country – then what do you do? If the public is saying to you, we're not going to give you the money to keep funding the level of service, what should be the next logical step?
PA: I don't know.
RH: Reduce the service. You cannot – we cannot be in a position to be out trying to provide the same level of service if the funding's been reduced by 50%.
PA: You're saying you'd rather have the service reduced than to convince taxpayers to increase taxes?
RH: I would say it's a combo. One is, I'd say that's one area. I'd say two, when we talk about we could sit down and come up with ways to reduce. I'm just saying we're not willing to take the entire burden. So when people say, well, we're so broke today so by god the bus drivers and maintenance people should take a 50% … we don't think that's right. We don't think that's fair. So I'm saying there's solutions, but it's gotta be give and take on both sides, not one.
PA: So you'd say that service should sacrifice, taxpayers should sacrifice and employees should sacrifice?
RH: Rather than the employees shouldering the entire burden.
PA: Okay. So that also implies that you wouldn't support a status quo or something. You're not writing off the possibility of takebacks. You're saying that they shouldn't happen in as draconian fashion as they're proposed.
RH: Right. And I think if you look back now, I can say that when we were in negotiations and mediation, we're willing to look at ways to change insurance. We came up with all kinds of insurance plan designs to change, reduce. But we never got past it, because it's like you're talking you've got this big amount and they want it all to come from us right now today. Despite 35 years of collective bargaining. They want it right now.
PA: Well, it's not all going to solve the problem. This is the last thing, I want to move on to other stuff. But even their proposal will only cut that $75 million by you know, $20 million or something like that. It would be a partial solution. Now, of course in another six months they're going to come back and ask for more, I assume.
RH: And once we get this arbitration settlement, it only goes through November of this year. In a few more months, we're going to be back bargaining, doing the whole thing all over again.
PA: Yeah. All right. So I should move along. I want to hit you with a couple sort of personal questions and then move to things your opponents say about you. Okay? What's the best and worst part of being a union president?
RH: I think the best part is sometimes you can really see your accomplishments and how they really affect not just the employees but families?
PA: Was there a particular time when that was clear to you? Any story you've got?
RH: Well, I think when I've negotiated wages and benefits that people receive today, I think a bus driver can afford to send their kids to college. Years before that, I don't think that was true. There's a lot of people out here working who don't earn a living wage to be able to pay and send their kids to college. But I think what our bus drivers have earned and through collective bargaining, I think that's probably one of the most proudest things, is seeing they're actually able to do things in their lives. And I think a lot of it had to do with the union and collectively bargaining and improving upon those standards of living.
PA: Yeah, all right. And what's the worst part?
RH: Worst part is I think if the membership right now is up to 4300, you have 4300 individual bosses. And sometimes to try and find a balance to where you're never going to make them all happy, but to try and find a balance in time is tough. So that's the tough part of this job, is you have to keep in mind that you're doing this for the membership in general. And of course, most of us, human nature says that we're most interested in what's going to work for me, what do I need? So that's the balancing act.
PA: Yeah, that makes sense. So I got to talk to Tom and Bruce so far, so I'm going to run past their critiques of your work, and then if you have critiques of them, I'm going to hit them again. Things I've heard include – both of these guys said your base of support in these elections has been these outlying properties that you've added to the union's area. And Bruce actually said that was why you had organized them, that you saw your base of support in the local body falling down, and you knew that if you organized the new unit that they would have loyalty to you and your sort of – faction.
RH: Well, I think the second thing you said that because you organized them, they'd have loyalty. Think back to what we just talked about, about having 4300 bosses. Unless you've done a good or respectful job in representing folks, whether they're from TriMet or from outside, then I don't think you can really say that. I would say, though, that I believe those comments are just as unqualified as some of the other things that I've heard come from Bruce and who else?
PA: I talked to Tom Strader.
RH: Oh. (waves hand) I think if you look back at previous elections, his contention that I didn't get my support from TriMet would not hold up. Because if you look at the votes, and you can look after the election the breakdown of where the votes would come – even if you were to assume that the winning candidate got every vote from outside TriMet, they could not win unless they got a substantial from here. Also, I would say that probably the strongest voting block at TriMet: retirees. And they vote. Both for membership and elections runner-up, 40 to 50 percent. That's all that take the time to vote. But retirees are up to around 70%, 75%. And I would have to say this: that retirees have always been a passion, that I believe strongly that we always have to protect them, and that's why in this election we've got the unanimous endorsement of the retiree chapter.
PA: I didn't know that. Okay, great. Other endrosements you'd want to note?
RH: Well, I would say that the outlying properties, the executive board officers have endorsed us. Lane Transit, Salem Transit, C-Tran. As far as TriMet, the executive board officers right now, I don't know for sure, but I'd say that all but maybe two are now supporting us. And I think that when things (inaudible) out, I've gotten lots of phone calls which make me feel pretty good, because you know, we were talking last year that what we need is Ron Heintzman to get back here and take this over, and then we get your flyer and oh my god, it's true. So whether that's going to translate into a win, but I feel that's what I bring. Is if we're going to fight off the most anti-union administration we've ever dealt with, we're going to have to have somebody who can lead.
PA: When did you decide you're going to run.
RH: You know, Jon Hunt had approached me a couple months back, and I just never gave it much thought. And my response was, Jon, I have no intentions of...
PA: Did he approach you asking if you were going to?
RH: He approached me saying I would like you to run. Because, he said, it's not about me, it's about a solid team. And he realizes that TriMet – it's others as well – but he realized that we're in a war. And so he said, I know that people will say, how come I'm stepping down. It's not about me. I'm stepping down because it's the best thing for the members.
PA: Did the DUI play into that?
RH: I don't know. He never brought it up. I think there's some people out there who think it would have. I personally don't think it's as big of a deal as people think. Because, okay, look, if you give it back, that's what we're about, giving people second chances. If you look at TriMet, at the number of people that's been convicted of drunken driving, and are still doing their job at TriMet because they're good employees, that's what we're here for. You know, we screw up. People make mistakes in life. But if you learn from that, you're going to be punished. So while I think some for political reasons are spouting that, I think the majority of our membership realize that Jon has done a good job as president and yeah, he made a mistake, but he's admitted it, and so I don't think that's a – I think politically I think it's an issue, but for the people spouting that –
PA: As a practical matter, it shouldn't be.
PA: You guys are running essentially on a ticket. You've got the joint sign up, I saw in the garage. And he also hired you to work as a consultant here. When you lost the international election. I've heard folks say that these guys are buddies. Jon saved Ron's ass when he got fired from the international, and now he's making big bucks down as a consultant here, and he's just going to come in and make sure Jon keeps his office and keep the power structure in place.
RH: Well, you know, my response is my role in the union since I've been back is primarily to do hearings, that's what I have – so in about 15 I have to head out to TriMet – so I've probably done 18 to 20 arbitrations, and the reason it was Jon's decision to hire me, but the board approved it, was that my cost compared to the attorney's is a difference of like, maybe a thousand dollars per case to $15,000. So that's why the board, when Jon proposed – because, they again because of the relationship with TriMet, they've got a backlog of over 100 grievances.
PA: Obviously, you're an experienced negotiator.
RH: And the union is having financial – things are tough all over. That's why I was brought back. And the fact that I say that some of my opponents, I think it became real clear in the hearing that we just went through, TriMet, they probably had 15 witnesses on the stand. The union had me. We went back. None of those people at TriMet had the history, had the knowledge. And I was able to go back to '88, the first contract, because I've done every one since then. I'm the one that probably wrote the majority of it. I think history is absolutely imperative. Management changes. If your union leadership changes on a regular basis, you lose it all. And I think that's one of the reasons why people should vote for me. You've got history here, you've got experience, and I'm proud of it.
PA: I want to ask two more very important questions, then we'll get some photos and we'll be done. So these guys describe you as a bully who doesn't run the operation democratically. This wasn't exactlly while I think you were in charge, but they cite the 2003 contract people had to go out to the airport, they had one day to go out, look at it, and the packet wasn't available anywhere else, you had to sign off yes or no on the contract, and that's not, they're saying, a way to have a democratically approved contract. People talk about the meetings that you've run, that you and allies shout down opponents and criticism. Do you have any response to that?
RH: My response to that is, am I a hard-ass? Absolutely yes. I don't believe in nonsense and I don't believe in wasting time. So you know, if somebody has a predictive point, I certainly listen, but if people are going to be talking crap, then I don't stand for it. So that's one of the reasons why people say it. They also, there's a faction that doesn't like me because one of the toughest things in this job is to tell somebody no. And of course we have grievances filed all the time, probably 50 a week with all properties. And a lot of those are not grievances. And a responsible union officer is to look an employee in the face and say, you know, I understand your concerns, but it's not a grievance. The problem is, we have too many, like the ones who I think are making those challenges, who take everything to the grievance procedure. Oh yeah, by god, they're (inaudible). So I have people who don't like me. They think I'm too hard. But I'll say this: we didn't get to where we're at today if you're chicken. And I use that one of my favorites you know is Humphrey, Hubert Humphrey, and that speech he gave to labor before he died was – and I subscribe to this – I'd rather live one year as a tiger than a hundred years as a chicken. And that's exactly how I feel.
PA: How much is your contract worth with the union right now?
RH: I work 20 hours a month, and I get paid 50 an hour.
PA: And is this your part-time office, or is it just your –
RH: I met here because you wanted to.
PA: Great. So I read the Nick Budnick piece from Willamette Week from '01 or '00 or something like that. Did you have somebody forge Walsh's signature to sign a document and make a lot of money?
RH: No. And if you read that, of course they also filed complaints with the IRS and that has all been resolved. There was no wrongdoing. What they tried to claim was that we forged Tom Walsh's name. Tom Wallace was the person who signed it.
PA: Wasn't it signing on the line that Tom Walsh was supposed to sign?
RH: No. It said "TriMet," it didn't say "GM."
PA: Well, why would he be signing there?
RH: Because he was – it was just – I don't remember exactly right now what that form was, but it was all legit. And, as I said before Willamette Weekly filed the complaint with the IRS, if I had done something illegal, don't think they would have done something?