Fact Check: Operator Wage Rates

On May 12, 2016, TriMet sent the ATU a letter offering to extend the existing collective bargaining agreement for two years, including the same 3 percent annual wage increase for both years that is in the current agreement. TriMet requested a labor-management meeting to discuss the contract extension. The ATU has not responded.

However, in the June 3, 2016, ATU Union Newsletter, ATU President Shirley Block stated that, “Wage increases in the current contract [between ATU and TriMet], and with the proposed contract extension, put member wages behind 6% by the end of 2018. For a top scale operator that represents a loss of $1.75 an hour.”

In the same ATU Union Newsletter, E-Board Officer David Kay states that the extension of the contract would “reduce/eliminate our legal standing in our court efforts to force TriMet to undo illegal implementation (due to sudden post-vote interpretation and intent changes) to our contract.” He also states, TriMet’s proposal was sent to the ATU “after business hours on Thursday the 12th of May.” We set the record straight.


Top Operator wages would be behind by 6 percent by the end of 2018 if the current contract was extended.


False. TriMet’s top operators are paid significantly above the average of comparator public transit agencies. With TriMet’s offer to extend the current contract with 3 percent annual wage increases, step and longevity increases, operator wages would undoubtedly remain above 11 west coast comparator transit agencies.

By the numbers:

  • TriMet has 1,238 bus operators with 625 at the top rate of $28.39/hour.
  • The 625 bus operators at the top rate also receive longevity pay, which ranges from $0.30/hour (15 years) to $2.30/hour (35 years). The average wage with longevity pay of $0.30/hour brings their wages to $28.69/hour. The average comparator is $26.64/hour, also including longevity pay, which only Eugene offers.
  • 246 bus operators receive an average of $0.75/hour in longevity pay.
  • In the last year, the average pay for all represented employees increased 10.14 percent from $27.04/hour to $29.17/hour from April 1, 2015 to April 1, 2016, including step and longevity increases.

When comparing wages and longevity pay, but excluding salary differentials based upon cost of living, TriMet’s top bus operators make 7.7 percent more than the average at comparator agencies.

This chart shows the wage comparison of the 11 west coast transit agencies. TriMet’s top bus operators make $28.39/hour. By comparison, the average top bus operator rate is $26.61/hour at our 11 west coast comparators of Seattle, Santa Ana, San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Oakland, Eugene, Denver and Dallas. Considering only base pay, not including longevity and salary differentials based upon the high cost of living, TriMet’s top operators make 6.7 percent above the average.

Salary differentials based upon geographic differences:

Among the 11 west coast comparators, those with a high cost of living have to pay more. On average, wages at these agencies are inflated by 6.6 percent due to the high cost of living.

  • A bus operator who earns $1.22 in San Jose or $1.08 in Seattle would only have to earn $1.00 in Portland to have equivalent wages.
  • Conversely, a bus operator who earns $0.93 in Eugene or $0.91 in Salt Lake City would have equivalent wages to someone who earns $1.00 in Portland.
  • When discounted for salary inflation based on geography, the comparators’ average top operator rate with longevity is reduced from $26.64 to $24.93. That means TriMet’s top bus operators earn 15.1 percent more than the average at comparator agencies.

Around the country, public transit contracts are settling at an average wage increase of 2.2 percent. If accepted by the ATU, TriMet’s offer to extend the current contract by two years with 3 percent annual wage increases, step and longevity increases, would keep TriMet’s top bus operators above market average now and they would remain above our peer agencies through 2018.


Extending the labor contract would jeopardize the ATU’s legal position in pending litigation. ATU also claims TriMet’s offer to extend the contract was sent “after business hours” on May 12th.


False. Extending the labor contract has absolutely no impact either upon TriMet’s pending unfair labor practice charges and civil litigation against the ATU or the ATU’s legal charges against TriMet. This is simply a red herring.

The fax receipt shows that TriMet sent its Thursday, May 12 offer to extend the contract to the ATU at 9:14 a.m. and that it was received by the ATU at that time.

Additional Background

The most recent contract expires on Nov. 30, 2016. The ATU is strike prohibited due to legislation that they sought in Salem in 2007. If both parties are unable to reach a negotiated agreement, the parties are bound by binding interest arbitration — meaning an outside arbitrator selects only one proposal and there will not be a vote to ratify.

With the contract end approaching and no ability to strike, ATU leadership is instead claiming unfair labor practices and engaging in a public relations campaign aimed at pressuring TriMet into concessions that would once again threaten its financial stability.

TriMet remains committed to providing employees and retirees with fair pay and benefits, while being fair to taxpayers and riders.


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