The other day, Portland Transport reported on the Westside Service Enhancement Plan. While wondering about the funding sources for such an ambitious expansion of service, I did take it seriously as a planning activity–and indeed, there are quite a few good ideas in there that I would love to see implemented.
However, in my wonky haste to discuss all the fun parts–I missed this little tidbit at the end:
Additionally, full implementation of the plan is limited until we are able to restructure our employee benefits.
A few readers have suggested that this “plan” is little more than a public relations ploy which TriMet is attempting to use to drum up support for its position in the ongoing contract negotiations–and something to be discarded if and when the agency wins the concessions from the union which it seeks. I have little reason to doubt the good faith and professionalism of TriMet’s planning staff, and it’s commonplace for planning activities to include more than an agency has the ability to pay for (this provides decision-makers with more options to consider). However, when planning documents (and planning outreach materials) come laden with an asterisk, it raises red flags all over the place.
And then a link to this “Save Our Service” page appeared in my inbox–promoting a “Transit Day” event at the state capitol in Salem, at which concerned riders will be invited to–well, it’s not precisely clear what participants in this even will be asked to do, beyond generic types of political activity. But the page in question is chock full of dire warnings, including the recent warning of 70% service cuts in the future, unless “reform” to the union contract happens. (ATU, naturally, disputes these warnings).
At any rate–given that the disagreement is fundamentally over healthcare benefits and costs–union workers aren’t getting richer if they have their way, it’s just that a particular defined benefit (health insurance) has gotten ridiculously more expensive over the years–perhaps reform of this problem would be more productive? After all, the medical industry is claiming an ever-larger share of the economic pie–and everyone else is left fighting over whose own piece will have to shrink as a result. In the private sector, workers have continually gotten the short end of this particular stick. HCR is, of course, a difficult nut to crack–even the modest reforms that made up Obamacare were quite politically costly for the Democrats, and in the current political climate, further reforms are pretty much off the table, at least at a national level. But this, folks, is the real problem–those of us who care about transit, whether as riders or drivers, are right now fighting over scraps.