The state Employment Relations Board has agreed to mediate the contract negotations between TriMet and the union representing most of its employees.

State Conciliator Janet Gillman will begin mediating discussions between the agency and the leadership of Amalgamated Transit Union 757 beginning Tuesday, April 8.

TriMet requested mediation services after lengthy negotiations failed to reach consensus on a contract agreement. The request was made on Feb. 4, the 150-day bargaining milestone on a the new contract, as allowed by state collective bargain laws.

TriMet issued the following statement on Friday, Feb. 14:

While TriMet and ATU leaders negotiated around the clock, the parties did not reach agreement on the core issues of wages and benefits. TriMet Executive Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources Randy Stedman then sent a request to the ERB requesting a mediator be assigned to assist the parties toward settlement.

In an effort to keep the process moving toward contract settlement, TriMet is working to set up further negotiation sessions with ATU leadership prior to the mediation. Stedman advised ERB of these efforts to continue communications. Strained labor relations have adversely affected our operations and employee morale, as noted in the Secretary of State’s recent audit.

The contract expired on Nov. 30, 2012, and by law union members cannot strike. If a settlement cannot be reached via negotiations, an arbitrator selects one of the party’s proposal through binding interest arbitration for the contract period.

The core issues remain active and retiree healthcare costs. TriMet cannot sustain paying 100 percent of the premium cost for its platinum-level healthcare benefits for active employees and retirees and continue to fund them for another 16 years for surviving spouses and dependents.

The January 2014 Secretary of State’s audit called TriMet’s “most serious and looming concern” is related to the cost of healthcare benefits and the $852 million unfunded liability for retiree health care. TriMet is working to reform these benefits through contract negotiations to be in line with peer agencies.

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