FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 9, 2012
Contact: Jonathan Hunt
TriMet elderly and disabled transit operators on strike
Bus operators who operate the elderly and disabled transportation service for TriMet in Multnomah and Washington Counties went on strike this morning after negotiations and mediation that began in February 2010 failed to produce a new agreement. The operators, who are employed by the foreign company First Transit, Inc. under contract with TriMet, are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757. Pickets start going up this morning at the TriMet administration building located at 4012 SE 17th Avenue, Portland.
Approximately 145 operators work in Multnomah County for TriMet Region 1, and approximately 125 operators work in Region 2 in Washington County. The service, which is required to be provided by TriMet under federal law, serves the most vulnerable citizens in the community.
The main contention in the protracted labor dispute centers around First Transit’s offer representing about a 2% increase per year, while First Transit receives annual increases to their contracts with TriMet of over 5% each year on a five year agreement. “This foreign corporation is sucking huge profits out of the community and sending those profits overseas while the folks who work and live in the community are being shafted,” said Jonathan Hunt, President of ATU 757. “And TriMet is standing by and allowing them to get away with it” Hunt claimed.
TriMet workers, as public employees, are prohibited from striking under State law. First Transit, as a contractor for TriMet is required to settle contract disputes by arbitration under a Federal Transit Administration Section 13c agreement between TriMet and ATU 757, but TriMet refuses to compel First Transit to comply. Neil McFarlane, TriMet’s current general manager, claims the Section 13c agreement does not apply to their paratransit contractors. “McFarlane is taking a position contrary to all of the general managers before him,” says Hunt.
At a recent TriMet Board of Directors’ meeting, McFarlane, when responding to the call from the public to bring the paratransit service in-house under TriMet’s direct supervision, said that if paratransit operators became public employees they would be subject to the no-strike law and that would not be good for getting a timely resolution of a contract. “It is clear that McFarlane wants employees to strike, rather than prevent a disruption of service,” said Hunt. “Well, it looks like McFarlane’s wish came through.”
TriMet’s action or inaction is causing thousands of elderly and disabled citizens from getting to the doctor, to the pharmacy for needed prescriptions and to the store to buy groceries. This is the group within our community that relies on public transportation more so than any one else. TriMet’s refusal to compel their contractor to arbitrate the labor dispute over a strike and disruption of service is just one more of the poor decisions TriMet executive leaders have made during the past two years.
According to Hunt, how TriMet can give First Transit annual across the board revenue contract increases over 5%, and stand by while workers strike because they are being offered less than 2% a year is not only remarkable, but it signals a wholesale change of top TriMet leadership.