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Oregonian, The (Portland, OR) - August 6, 1988
Author: STAN FEDERMAN - of the Oregonian Staff
Readability: >12 grade level (Lexile: 1360)

With contract negotiations only 10 days away, Tri-Met and its union are once again growling at each other, this time over driver sign-ups for bus routes for the fall.

The union says it is rejecting the fall sign-up because of many contractual violations by Tri-Met and union concerns for operator and passenger safety.

The agency, however, has ignored the union complaints and is unilaterally proceeding with the sign-up. It has also ordered its attorneys to file an unfair labor practice charge against the union with the Oregon Employment Relations Board.

The latest clash between the union and Tri-Met comes as both are preparing for the Aug. 16 start of new contract talks. It follows a recent tiff in which the union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the agency, alleging it had violated the current contract by hiring private security officers for weekend work aboard Tri-Met vehicles.

The union charge is still pending before the Employment Relations Board.

Tri-Met routinely develops bus routes and time schedule changes several times a year based on public need and demand. Operator assignments are then made through a driver seniority sign-up procedure involving the agency's 900 drivers.

In the current labor squabble, Ron Heintzman, business representative for Local 757 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, sent the agency a letter detailing the union's reasons for protesting the current sign-up.

These included, he said, failure by Tri-Met to provide for an adequate number of extra drivers, not negotiating with the union over driver road relief points and using part-time drivers more than their contractual six hours a day.

Heintzman's charges were denied this week by James E. Cowen, Tri-Met general manager, who said they were ``totally untrue.'' Cowen then ordered the sign-up to proceed as planned and told agency attorneys to file the unfair labor practice charge.

Heintzman said Thursday that the union may file a similiar charge against the agency for attempting to force the drivers into the sign-up procedure.

``The real issue here is that our extra-driver boards are completely inadequate and are running some 15 percent below normal,'' he said. ``This means some operators are working 10- and 12-hour schedules, getting a couple of hours sleep, and returning for another 10-12 hour run.''

The situation, Heintzman added, results in drivers being overworked and tired and ``we could have a serious accident some day because of this.''

The extra-driver boards are located at each of Tri-Met's three garages. They consist of drivers who sign up for daily open route assignments which they handle for regular drivers who may be absent because of illness, having a day off or being on vacation.

Cowen pointed out that the number of extra drivers is usually lower in the summer because it is a heavy vacation period and there are fewer drivers available for such duty. ``The problem goes away once summer ends,'' he added.

But Heintzman disagreed. ``The problem has increasingly worsened, and this is the time to address the issue now before someone gets hurt,'' he said.

Cowen said that since the agency has ignored Heintzman's charges of contract violations, the union leader ``is now looking for another horse to ride. He is calling it `Safety.' ''

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