TriMet wins aribtration with ATU 757

As mentioned in the open thread, TriMet has prevailed against ATU Local 757 in the abitration over the 2009 contract offer. TriMet’s “Modified Final Offer” is retroactively imposed, and expires–this fall. An announcement by TriMet is here, the ruling is here.

Earlier, The Oregonian summarized the contract proposals here, and profiled the arbitrator here. The main item in dispute was medical benefits; even with the loss, TriMet operators will still have quite good benefits (10% medical copay, no monthly premiums, and deductible of $150 per employee or $450 per family, and $5 RX copay).

The arbitrator, while awarding the victory to TriMet, did so reluctantly; the ruling contains the following tidbit (emphasis added):

In the case at hand, the Arbitrator spend a considerable amount of time reviewing the exhibits provided by the parties, listening to the audio transcript that was made of the hearing, and giving full and thoughtful consideration to the parties’ arguments. Both parties provided lengthy and well-written briefs. Ultimately, the Arbitrator is awarding TriMet’s Modified Final Offer package as he finds that it is the best total fit to the statutory criteria. He does so reluctantly, as there are parts of the package which he believes are unwarrented, poor public policy, and simply unfair.

TriMet has gone to great lengths to emphasize that this means no further service cuts this fall–which does prompt me to ask–what about the $20M contingency fund? Can some of it be used to restore service? Or is it necessary to stave off future service cuts? (It wouldn’t actually be a bad idea for TriMet to keep a nest egg–perhaps throwing it into the pension fund, from which it could conceivably borrow in the future–to help cushion the agency from future economic headwinds. But I would be much happier if it were more up-front about doing this, if that is indeed what is up).

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30 responses to “TriMet wins aribtration with ATU 757”

  1. More juicy language from the arbitrator:

    The “Elephant in the room” is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming big issue. In the instant case, the TriMet – ATU health plan is not just an elephant but a two-headed Siamese twin elephant that has been ignored for well over a decade. One head of the elephant is the current health pan for active ATU members while the larger and more problematic head is the same health plan as it is applied to TriMet retirees. The financial impact of this benefit dwarfs all of the other proposals and affects total compensation to a degree that effectively controls the outcome of this Award.

    In other words, on many specific issues–changes to the Pension plan, switching to a defined contribution (i.e. 401k) plan rather than a defined benefit plan, and paying for union officers to attend grievance hearings–the Arbitrator was strongly opposed to the TriMet proposal. But the issue of healthcare swamped the rest of the arbitration–and as the arbitrator was required to choose one package in toto over the other, TriMet won on this issue alone.

  2. Universal health care would render this entire issue moot.

    Yes, and no. Ideally it would. In practice, there are a few labor unions out there that when the ACA (Affordable Care Act–aka “Obamacare”) was being negotiated, insisted on the exclusion of a provision which would tax “cadillac” health plans–above market health plans with highly generous benefits. Several unions have managed to negotiate for their members excellent health benefits (ATU757’s proposal likely would qualify as a “cadillac” plan under the proposal, and they wanted to ensure that the benefits they had won at the bargaining table wouldn’t effectively be reduced by the Act.

    In fairness to labor; labor has long preferred more government-focused approaches to healthcare (such as single payer) and the AFL-CIO has long had the position that they would abandon “cadillac” plans in favor of a single-payer plan that guaranteed a uniform baseline standard for all; but that Obamacare misses that mark on that score.

    But with SCOTUS declaring Obamacare constitutional, that paves the way for individual states to institute their own reforms within their borders, including potentially single-payer. IF I understand it right.

  3. There better be no more service cuts-FOR YEARS
    And the contingency budget should be released RIGHT NOW to restore some service!

    I would make no bets on the amount of absenteeism that will be occurring now, and the shoddy repair of vehicles.

    This could backfire big time on Mcfarlane and his merry band of hacks.

    And I got plenty of coverage on PRO UNION WEB SITE where I dissect various portions of this very disturbing ruling

  4. Al on your website you’re coming up with some pretty ridiculous conclusions about this ruling. “Say you have $100,000 bill (3 nites in a hospital) you will be billed $10,000.” – that isn’t the case at all.

  5. You’re absolutely right Al – my issue wasn’t your initial estimate but assuming that people will pay 10% or 20% of the total – I believe there should be a maximum up to a grand or two?

  6. Single payer would solve all of American’s problems.
    But alas, our country is run FOR PROFIT and the people that make that profit own our government.

    And the voters of this fine country are too stupid to understand the issues so we end up with nothing for the citizens.

    So the anti union movement wins again, just like Greece-Spain-Italy-Wisconsin.

  7. How does this prevent $5 million more in cuts? $5 million of TriMet’s addition its contingency fund in the recently passed budget was ostensibly to cover costs if it lost arbitration. Is TriMet now saying that amount wouldn’t have been used to cover the arbitration and maintain service?

  8. I would be more supportive of a single payer system if we could clean up some of the problems that have driven our costs up. Otherwise I’m not sure there is an economic brake against American Big Medicine getting a corner on the market. Our medical system subsidizes a good portion of the worlds’ indigent ( or fake indigent) population so this would add one more incentive. When they could get similar treatment at home for a fraction, or maybe even no-cost through one of the numerous volunteer groups of Americans. So we would be paying for them at US cost.

    Now, people can fix minor problems at home, rather than go to the “free” doctor. And what incentive is their for people to work if they are covered? Already some people are opting out of insurance plans offered at work or just not seeking jobs if they meet the other under-26 qualifications. Or, if not an emergency, doctors and hospitals in other countries are offering treatment at hugely reduced prices: dentists in Mexico, plastic surgeons in Venezuela, pharmacies in Canada. ( I would stay away from the $1000 heart valve replacement in India, though. Sounds too good to be true.)

    Not saying it is a bad idea.

    But competition can also bring prices way down, as it has done with technology. Hopefully new innovations, like minimally invasive techniques—will bring costs down. I suppose, though, with more people living longer there will be stronger demand.

  9. “Competition” Ron, is a complete and total failure ok.
    We have an assortment of giant corporations that are monopolies that provide everything, from food, to gas, to pharmaceuticals, to medical care.

    There is no competition, and there isn’t going to be any either.

    You’re trying to bring back the good old days, well guess what, they ain’t coming back.

    And when Greece comes to America, and the banks strangle the population, we shall see the

  10. What I would like to see done–and I think if TriMet actually wanted to solve the problem they could get together with others and do it at the state level–is have a health exchange/funding for everyone that can show they work or volunteer a certain amount.

    Encourage people to be healthy and make better (as in better value) health care choices.

    Use the public and private money that’s currently going towards health care but allow employers to opt out and keep their current plan if they want.

  11. “$5 RX copay”

    Nope, that’s not TriMet’s LBO said. The LBO said:

    $5 prescriptions or 20% of cost – whichever is greater.

  12. I’m starting to get a little annoyed at the constant calls to dip into the reserve fund. It’s reminiscent of how everyone calls for releasing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve every time gas gets expensive. The fact is, only a qualified auditor could determine whether TriMet’s contingency fund is too much or too little. They did raise it by a lot, which raises questions, but I suspect they did it because the continued economic crisis and the next contract negotiation creates a lot of uncertainty. Imagine if they drew down the reserve and then something unexpected happened–everyone would then attack them for foolishly dipping into reserves.

    I think TriMet badly needs to hire an auditor. Metro in Seattle did this several years ago and they got a ton of ideas out of it for cost savings. Perhaps they would find that some of the reserve is not necessary. In that case, though, I would favor them using it to build up a capital reserve for future fleet replacement, something most transit agencies have but TriMet doesn’t, which is why they have to borrow money to buy new buses.

  13. Something I don’t understand about the Trimet offer: Per the Oregonian there is an out of pocket cap of $1,500 and no premium contribution. How does the union get to an average annual cost to employees of $4,000? Is the max $1,500 per family member?

  14. bjcefola It’s $1500 dollars for a single person-$4000 dollars for a family, and that aint chump change if your a retiree.

    Mcfarlane screwed us-pure and simple. He didnt change things from this date forward-he changed all the retirees going all the way back to the oldest retiree.

    He’s scum in my eyes, the way he accomplished his goal is the just despicable, truly a despicable man.

    He got what he wanted but he did it in the most underhanded, evil of ways.

    So he has just lowered my retirement pay by $4000, I only get $900 a month. What a piece of S@#T this man is

  15. Check that-that’s wrong- I get $700/month because I was forced to pay more for the benefits.

    So basically he removed my entire retirement pension.

    And you wonder why my vitriol is so viscous

  16. First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.

  17. “So he has just lowered my retirement pay by $4000, I only get $900 a month. What a piece of S@#T this man is”

    Gotta wait for your social security, dude. A lot of people get nothing more than that.

  18. Al, you seem aweful upset that now your health insurance costs are almost closer to the rest of us. While at the same time you are complaining – my private sector employers have been reducing coverage and increasing costs every year since the late 90s.

    I dislike American for-profit health care.

    But your complaining about something that most of us have worse doesn’t help your case. Tri Met employees still have cheaper and better health insurance than most people I know.

  19. John’s right, Al. I’d trade your health benefits for mine in a heartbeat. You’re not winning any sympathy by complaining about how your health benefits dropped from “unbelievably awesome” to “great.”

    Also, comparing McFarlane to a Nazi probably violates at least two or three of The Rules of this site.

  20. Hey. Al. If you wanted to belong to a union where you could get good retirement benefits you should have joined the Brotherhood of Carpenters. Pretty good rates, for the insiders at least.

    Since a lot of them work under the table, also, they even figured out a way to credit those earnings into the pension fund. Now that, IMO, really STINKS! I don’t even know if it is legal, but they do it. There are a few guys that draw checks as big as $4000/mo. (according to the plan administrators) and that’s not figuring the big social security checks and 401k’s they can get, too.

    Could ATU members do some driving on the side and credit it into their pension fund? I don’t think so.

    Then, there’s the real estate holdings that some of them have…..

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