Tuesday, April 24, 2012

At TriMet – The Buses Are Rolling Without any Wheels

By Jonathan Hunt, President
It has been a record number for one year.  I am referring to the number of local newspaper articles and editorials published about TriMet, its financial problems and its contract dispute with the Union representing TriMet employees.  While most of these articles and editorials were slanted in favor of TriMet, the main theme in all of them is that TriMet’s problems were caused by everyone else, except by inept senior management.  And the latest editorial in The Oregonian, which was published in the April 20, 2012 edition, is no exception.

As with most of the prior editorials, the most recent Oregonian editorial once again lays the blame for fare increases and service cuts on the Union, and not where it belongs, with TriMet senior management.  And like previous articles, the media attempts to blame others for TriMet’s problems; the Oregon Employment Relations Board, the TriMet Board members appointed by the Governor, and anyone else they could throw into the fray, always avoiding placing the blame where it belongs, on the current leadership of the agency.
And then there is the blame for the no-strike, mandatory arbitration law that both the media and TriMet are always crying about.  They claim including transit workers under the strike-prohibited law was a mistake because it prolongs the impasses and damages the transit system and the region’s livability.  The law, and similar law that has been in effect in Washington State for many years, has served the public well.  The media and TriMet always fail to mention the fact that had TriMet not violated the law, the current contract dispute would have been settled in 2010.  But, of course, they conveniently like to leave that critical fact out of the story.
Look back during the past thirty years.  TriMet has had four general managers and administrations over this period, including the current one led by Neil McFarlane.  Financial difficulties and claims of revenue shortages are nothing new at TriMet.  Over the years, TriMet has claimed budget shortfalls, some even greater than they are claiming now.  And for the most part, the Unionized workers were always blamed as the main reason for driving up costs.  But TriMet and Union leaders were always able to get past any hurdles, and come to reasonable solutions on addressing the issues; that is, until now.
The current TriMet leadership have made a lot of bad decisions in operating the agency during the past two years, which have resulted in huge wastes of taxpayer dollars.  Not just bad decisions that made the news, but many operational decisions that the riding public didn’t read about, but that adversely affected the services they received from TriMet.  And let’s be clear.  The workers, those who operate and maintain the vehicles, and those who support all activities associated with providing such service, are the front line ambassadors of TriMet.  Those behind the scenes making the operational decisions are insulated from the public, and it is the ambassadors that take the brunt for their bad decisions on a daily basis.
Take a look at some of the senior leadership recently hired by Neil McFarlane, and you may find it easier to understand why the agency is going in the direction it is headed now.  The new general counsel at TriMet, who as a subordinate manager before being promoted was well known for her anti-union views and practices. And the newly hired labor relations director, who bragged on his resume that he was able to get a pro-union election overturned.
McFarlane’s team has informed the Union that in upcoming negotiations scheduled to begin later this year, TriMet will be proposing to delete the Joint Labor Management Committee provision from the contract that was previously negotiated to foster better and improved relations between the Union and the Agency.
Are you starting to get a clearer picture of why the current senior leadership at TriMet is having so many problems dealing with its unionized workforce?
The recent Oregonian editorial was captioned “Wheels coming off the bus”.  The more appropriate caption for the editorial should have been……. "The busses are rolling without any wheels”.  It would much better explain TriMet’s bumpy ride, don’t you think?

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