More on TriMet vs ATU 757: Whose cuts?

A list of cuts (benefits/salary reductions, layoffs, etc.) affecting TriMet personnel over the past decade, particularly those affecting the agency’s non-union personnel.

There has been much public discussion of the various cuts to benefits that TriMet is asking its operators’ union, (Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757) to make–and to what extent TriMet’s management and non-union staff has been asked to sacrifice as well. A email, from one Josh Collins, a TriMet communications manager, has been forwarded to portlandtransport.com, and contains a list of concessions made over the past decade or so by TriMet’s non-union workforce. All of the items on this list, including editorial comments, are taken verbatim from the email.

  • In FY2003 management health benefits changed. Employees enrolled in the PPO medical/dental plans pay an annual deductible co-insurance for most services with higher co-insurance for prescription drugs and premium cost sharing to cover dependents. This reduced costs and cost growth. Between 2003-2010, management health benefit costs per employee have increased at an annual rate of 5.8 percent, while per employee unionhealth benefits costs have increased 11.6 percent per year. In FY11 the management increase in the monthly contribution to health care premium basically doubled. Management now pays six percent of premium costs and single employees, who used to pay nothing, now pay six percent.
  • In FY2003 the management defined benefit pension plan closed to new employees. New employees participate in a defined contribution plan and TriMet contributes eight percent of the employee’s salary to the plan. This limits TriMet’s pension obligation to eight percent of salary, which is more comparable to private sector retirement benefits.
  • In FY2009 new non-union employees with 10 years of service are eligible for retiree health benefits but must pay the full cost. More comparable to private sector.
  • In FY10 and FY11, management received no wage increases.
  • FY11 increase in management monthly contribution to health care premium.
  • Between FY01-FY11 management staff was reduced by 10%.
  • TriMet implemented a hiring freeze, we have laid off non-union employees and reduced the hours of others.
  • TriMet discontinued tuition reimbursement for all employees for FY10 and FY11

Many of these items are already public knowledge (recent changes to benefit plans for all classes of employee are described in the annual report, for instance). Others are non-material items which I haven’t seen publicly documented elsewhere. Some of the items on the list are limited in scope to “management” (whether that includes only senior managers, or anyone who has direct reports; I do not know). Others refer to “employees” generally (or “non-union employees”), classes which may or may not include management.

And some of the indicated cuts do apply to TriMet’s union workforce–while the agency hasn’t laid off any union employees yet, it has cut hours. After all, service hours have been reduced–if you reduce service hours (and thus payroll hours) without reducing headcount, the only way to do that is by having your employees work less. My assumption is that overtime hours are being cut, and that full-time employees are not being asked to work less than full-time hours. This seems to be the preference of the union, which sees excessive overtime as dangerous (and understandably so), and probably would prefer to avoid layoffs. An interesting question: Would it be more cost-effective for TriMet to lay off employees instead of cutting overtime–given that escalating healthcare costs (which TriMet must pay on a per-employee rather than per-hour basis) almost certainly exceed the cost of overtime wages? Given the safety concerns of overtime, and the human cost of firing people, I’m actually glad the agency hasn’t done this; though I’m sure it’s crossed the mind of people both at TriMet and at the union.

In several key areas, however, TriMet’s union employees do get a “better deal” than its non-union employees are currently getting–particularly in the area of healthcare and pension benefits. New non-union employees are on a defined-contribution plan (similar to a 401(k), I suppose), an arrangement where the employee assumes much more financial risk; whereas union members continue with defined-benefit plans (where TriMet assumes the risk). And as has been noted, union employees currently do not contribute to healthcare benefits, whereas the non-union employees must do so.

The interesting question, of course, is what is fair–and what is not.

ATU 757 members (both regulars on this blog, and anyone else who cares to comment) are encouraged to respond to this posting; and/or to refer to commentary on this issue posted elsewhere. (Though as always, keep it civil–this applies to everybody). We are also inviting representatives of the union (an email will be sent to union representatives), should they wish, to submit material for rebuttal–either as a guest column, or as material we can incorporate into a follow-up article. We realize this article contains mainly “management” talking points, and are more than willing give ATU757 equal time in this important debate.

[edited for grammar]

19 Comments

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19 Responses to More on TriMet vs ATU 757: Whose cuts?

  1. Max
    November 21, 2010 at 5:55 pm Link

    1) I believe union part-time employees do pay premiums for health insurance – today.

    2) It has been said in the past that union employees have been given better benefits in lieu of salary — but I don’t see you comparing both benefits AND salaries above, just benefits.

    Neil’s $250,000 salary, for example, is about $80,000 more per year than his counterpart of King county metro. Why isn’t it on the chopping block?

    Also:
    Let’s say that union workers start to pay some amount of money for health premiums. How much money will that bring in? (very rough estimate: 1,500 employees * $200/mo average = $3.6M).

    Total operating expenses were $545M for FY 2010. Thus, we’re talking about reducing .66% of the opex expenses!

    So…..why are we even bothering to discuss this? This is peanuts in the grand scheme of things! It’s certainly not the solution to all of TriMet’s budgetary worries.

  2. AL M
    November 21, 2010 at 7:01 pm Link

    I’m going to digest this before making a comprehensive response, however, I want to see some actual charts with real life comparisons of all the west coast transit districts health coverages and employee costs.

    Nobody has produced any actual charts documenting any of the claims that TRIMET HAS THE BEST COVERAGE in the country.

    It’s easy to throw out rhetoric, its another to provide facts to back them up!

    In FY10 and FY11, management received no wage increases.

    ~~~>Big deal, check out the SALARIES that management pulls down just pushing papers and attending endless meetings!

    Between FY01-FY11 management staff was reduced by 10%.we have laid off non-union employees and reduced the hours of others.

    ~~~>Let’s see the actual list please!

    More to follow.

    AS ALWAYS I only represent my point of view!

  3. AL M
    November 21, 2010 at 7:09 pm Link

    HERE is another list outlining all the high paid folks over here at TRIMESS!

    Take close note of all the FORTUNES being made, especially in the CAPITAL PROJECTS division.

    Is it any wonder why they never stop pushing boondoggles?

  4. Aaron
    November 21, 2010 at 7:43 pm Link

    just pushing papers and attending endless meetings!

    C’mon. That’s no less unfair than people writing off a bus drivers’ job as menial, “getting paid so much just to drive around”.

    You certainly have a lot to offer this forum, Al, but sometimes I think you can act a bit rhetorically and intellectually lazy with your comments, and can hurt your own position more than you help it.

  5. AL M
    November 21, 2010 at 7:53 pm Link

    You certainly have a lot to offer this forum, Al, but sometimes I think you can act a bit rhetorically and intellectually lazy with your comments, and can hurt your own position more than you help it.

    ~~>Your entitled to your opinion and I respect your right to attack me.

    BUT, if I worried about what people thought of me or my idea’s I woulda given up blogging a long long time ago!

    I stand by my comments.

  6. AL M
    November 21, 2010 at 8:00 pm Link

    One further note on the above, I have no particular respect for the “executive class”.

    Especially people that work in “public service” who are supposed to be interested in public service, not enriching themselves.

    “The salary of the chief executive of a large corporation is not a market award for achievement. It is frequently in the nature of a warm personal gesture by the individual to himself.”

    John Kenneth Galbraith

  7. Josh Collins
    November 21, 2010 at 8:39 pm Link

    Overtime was reduced beginning in September by shortening the average length of our runs. This was done specifically to avoid laying off any operators. We also offered voluntary leaves of absence where operators could elect to take three months off without pay or benefits, and a number of operators were interested.

    Laying off frontline employees was something we wanted to avoid, not only because of the human impact–which is significant–but also because we invest a lot of time and money in an operator by way of training.

    Josh Collins
    TriMet Operations

  8. AL M
    November 21, 2010 at 8:48 pm Link

    Josh Collins by the way is the only guy that I see who actually earns his money!

    Notice how he does NOT make six figures!

  9. Jason McHuff
    November 21, 2010 at 9:03 pm Link

    A couple things:
    I think “management” generally includes non-union staff employees.

    While there has not been union employees laid off, there has been attrition due to retirements with no corresponding hiring.

  10. AL M
    November 21, 2010 at 9:05 pm Link

    I just got this communication:

    Didn’t only 13 operators take the voluntary leave? I mean sure, 13 is “a number” but Josh kind of makes it sound like a significant number took the leave and that’s not the case.

  11. AL M
    November 21, 2010 at 9:10 pm Link

    While there has not been union employees laid off, there has been attrition due to retirements with no corresponding hiring.

    ~~~>ya like hundreds! They can’t fill the runs!
    So overtime it is!

    And in a true act of solidarity, they seem to have very little problem filling the runs with overtime. Greed before union I guess….oh well, it is Amerika I guess…

  12. EngineerScotty
    November 21, 2010 at 9:48 pm Link

    A question. Are employees being asked to work more overtime (or hours in general) than they would like, or less? It sounds like more.

    (And Al… are you suggesting that union members ought to refuse overtime in an attempt to force TriMet to hire more drivers?)

  13. EMS
    November 21, 2010 at 11:26 pm Link

    When I was hired at TriMet in the spring of 2000, there were about 930 full time bus operators; today there are just over 800. The number of part time (“mini runners”) have stayed roughly the same.

    TriMet has not had to lay off any bus drivers to reduce costs since retiring operators have not been replaced by new hires like they used to be. The last new operator class at TriMet started in January 2009, almost two years ago.

    In order to keep our service at the current – albeit reduced level compared to a few years ago – it is my understanding that we still do have overtime for operators who WISH to work extra hours. I was called earlier today about working tomorrow, my day off, but I declined.

    Excessive overtime work CAN be dangerous, but I doubt there is enough overtime work for any operator at TriMet now, for anyone to work “excessive overtime” – there are rules about how many hours we are allowed to work, and to my knowledge, those rules are followed.

    In regard to our health care cost: I think it is fair that we as union employees should pay something for our health insurance – even if what we as a group thus contribute does not amount to much more than “peanuts in the grand scheme of things”… A lot of small reductions to the budget add up to a greater number that DOES matter.

  14. EMS
    November 21, 2010 at 11:28 pm Link

    Correction to my previous post: there were about 960 full time bus operators when I started at TriMet – thus the number of operators have been reduced by about 150 in the 10 1/2 years I have been at TriMet.

  15. EMS
    November 21, 2010 at 11:43 pm Link

    More to add – it is late, and I am tired…

    A number that has INCREASED in the 10+ years since I was hired, is the number of rail operators, all full time. Add to that, more rail controllers, rail supervisors and other rail support and maintenance personnel; thus, what has been saved in the budget on the bus side, has been “transferred” or “used up” by rail.

    The bus transportation has lost employees, while the rail side has gained employees. We may be looking at a “shift” of sort sideways from bus budget to rail budget; I wonder how much TriMet’s total operating budget has changed over the past 10 years, especially comparing bus to rail. (I am not an accountant, and I am sure this can be expressed much clearer by those who know how to.)

    And THAT is my last comment for tonight! :-)

  16. Douglas K.
    November 22, 2010 at 8:57 am Link

    Between 2003-2010, management health benefit costs per employee have increased at an annual rate of 5.8 percent, while per employee unionhealth benefits costs have increased 11.6 percent per year.

    We keep seeing average 11.6% annual increases, there won’t be anything left to maintain anything close to current levels of service. Tri-Met and the union need to get this under control, and sooner rather than later.

  17. Josh Collins
    November 22, 2010 at 12:14 pm Link

    I should clarify that the term “management” is confusing in my email that the author quotes. Is is intended to refer to all non-union employees, not just managers.

    Re: “Are employees being asked to work more overtime (or hours in general) than they would like, or less?”

    Overtime is offered in seniority order by the labor agreement. Operators can to pass up overtime if they don’t want it. For some employees the availability of overtime is a valuable option for them to have, and it saves the agency money.

    There are guidelines in place that address how many hours an operator can work in a day and how many days in a row an operator can work. If an operator is working a long shift, they also have the ability to call Dispatch to be relieved if they feel fatigued.

    Josh Collins
    TriMet Operations

  18. Josh Collins
    November 22, 2010 at 12:50 pm Link

    Re: Al M: “I just got this communication: Didn’t only 13 operators take the voluntary leave? I mean sure, 13 is ‘a number’ but Josh kind of makes it sound like a significant number took the leave and that’s not the case.”

    Twelve operators took the voluntary leave during the three-month fall sign up period, and eight took it for winter. I’d say twelve operators is a notable number of positions saved.

    Re: Al M.: “Josh Collins by the way is the only guy that I see who actually earns his money!” You can be the president of my fan club, Al! You may be the only member, though…

    Josh Collins
    TriMet Operations

  19. bvocal
    November 23, 2010 at 10:23 pm Link

    All this talk about overtime being cut? The truth be told it was scheduled overtime that was cut for the fall sign-up but appears to be back for the winter sign-up. Also during the fall sign-up there was more tripper overtime offered and rdo ( regular day off) work offered. No matter what is scheduled the busses have to be on the routes. And therefore when you do not have enough operators to get the work out the ones that are there get burdened with the extra work. In my 29 years behind the wheel we have always had all the overtime most of us wanted. Also up untill the last few years it was only the Union work rules that prevented the company from abusing the operators. The 12 hour rule that Josh refers to above is one of those union work rules and is only activated by the operator.

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