Fact Check: Failure to Launch Negotiations

The contract between the ATU and TriMet expires November 30, 2016. TriMet previously had proposed to commence bargaining a successor contract in spring 2016 to ensure bargaining was completed before the current contract expires. ATU rejected the proposal.

In September 2016, the parties agreed to commence successor bargaining on November 10, 2016. Just one day prior, ATU cancelled the bargaining session and stated it would not be ready to commence bargaining and exchange proposals until at least January 9, 2017. TriMet believes there is no good reason to delay bargaining for two months, especially since delays will result in a financial hardship to TriMet’s represented employees. Nonetheless, ATU has taken the position that it is contrary to good faith bargaining to exchange proposals and commence bargaining until after the Holiday Season. We set the record straight.

Claim

The November 10, 2016, bargaining session was not intended for any substantive bargaining, but instead only for a ground rules discussion.

Fact

False. TriMet notified ATU of its desire to open the contract for successor bargaining on September 27, 2016. The next day, the ATU gave notice of its desire to do the same. The ATU proposed November 9 or 10 for the first bargaining session; ATU's letter made no mention of limiting the meeting to discussing ground rules. TriMet agreed to commence bargaining on November 10, saying it could have its proposals ready to exchange on that date and asked the ATU whether it would be ready to exchange proposals then.

ATU did not respond for over a month, but then on November 7, sent TriMet a letter requesting that TriMet agree with ATU’s position that the November 10 session was limited to setting ground rules and to setting some future date to commence bargaining and exchange proposals.

TriMet responded, expressing its disappointment and stated it would be ready to exchange proposals and commence bargaining on November 10 and that it had no ground rules to propose. TriMet also stated it would insist on the status quo relative to the permissive subjects of bargaining at issue during the prior negotiations related to closed bargaining session and audio or visual recordings of the bargaining session.

Claim

ATU claims it would be contrary to good faith bargaining to commence bargaining and exchange proposals at the November 10 bargaining session because it was just before the Holiday Season.

Fact

False. ATU sent a letter on November 8 stating there was no agreement to commence bargaining on November 10 and that “it would be contrary to good faith bargaining to start the 150-day negotiation period just before the holiday season.” The ATU proposed one of two options: 1) meet on November 10 under ATU's terms; or 2) commence bargaining and exchange proposals no sooner than January 9, 2017.

TriMet again expressed its disappointment and explained that taking two months off from bargaining during the Holiday Season results in substantial and needless costs to TriMet's employees. As it did in its original contract opening letter in September 2016, TriMet explained it would freeze negotiated wage increases and pass on to employees the year-over-year healthcare costs during the hiatus period between contracts, as it had done during prior negotiations and pursuant to ORS 243.712 and .756.

Since ATU was not ready to bargain and TriMet had no ground rule proposals to offer, TriMet asked ATU if it had any ground rule proposals to discuss on November 10. TriMet stated it could then better assess which of ATU›s two alternatives was better to accept: meeting on November 10 only about ground rules; or waiting until January 2017 to commence bargaining and exchanging proposals. ATU responded by cancelling the November 10 session and reiterating its offer to meet in January to commence bargaining and exchange proposals.

On November 8, 2016, TriMet proposed January 9, 2017 as the new date to commence bargaining. TriMet heard nothing from ATU until TriMet received an e-mail from Shirley Block saying she believed negotiations were scheduled for January 10. TriMet responded that January 9 was the date proposed by the ATU that TriMet had accepted and that January 10 was not available. ATU eventually agreed to honor the January 9 date.

On December 21, 2016 TriMet proposed to use the State Conciliator from the outset of negotiations in an effort to mediate a prompt settlement of the contract, since the 2012-16 contract has already expired. The ATU declined to discuss the proposal.

Additional Background

There is nothing in the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) that suggests that it is contrary to good faith bargaining to begin bargaining before the Holiday Season. To the contrary, failure to expeditiously commence bargaining will result in a financial hardship to employees by artificially lengthening the bargaining process during which they will incur additional healthcare costs and not receive a wage increase. The last two contracts went to mediation after lengthy bargaining efforts proved fruitless. The 2009-12 contract eventually was resolved by interest arbitration two years, seven months after the predecessor contract expired. The most recent contract took almost two years to resolve after contract expiration. TriMet believes that the parties never should allow the contract to lapse before bargaining a successor contract to conclusion.

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