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UPDATE: Union employees have been working without a new contact since Nov. 30, 2016. If the union does not accept the offer, it will be decided through binding arbitation.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - TriMet says it is hoping to avoid binding arbitation.TriMet and its largest union announced late Friday that they have reached a tentative agreement on their next labor contract.

According to TriMet and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, the agreement comes after eight negotiation sessions, four mediations sessions and numerous offline discussions.

"From the very start, I have said that a negotiated settlement is the best outcome. I want to thank both the TriMet and the ATU negotiating teams for the arduous work that lead us to this tentative agreement," says TriMet General Manager, Neil McFarlane. "What we have achieved through this process is not only good for TriMet's team of union-represented employees, it's good for our riders and stakeholders, as it underscores our commitment to providing safe, reliable transit throughout the Portland region."

ATU 757 President Shirley Block said she is proud of the proposed contact and urged her union members to ratify it.

The last contract expired on Nov. 30, 2016. According to TriMet, if the two sides had not reached agreement, the contact would have gone to 'binding arbitartion" for an independent settlement.

The tentative agreement sets forth the terms of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement for a three-year period beginning December 2016 and going through November 2019. The agreement will now go before TriMet's Board of Directors to be ratified at its December Board meeting.

The agreement must also be approved by the ATU membership. The tentative contract covers roughly 85 percent of TriMet's nearly 3,000-employee workforce, who have been working without a contract since November 30, 2016.

According to TriMet, a major issue concernd the a severe shortage of Journey Worker mechanics. Except for five per year, ATU claims TriMet cannot hire any qualified Journey Worker mechanics from the outside unless ATU gives its permission.

Although TriMet says it has extremely robust apprenticeship programs operating at full tilt, it cannot keep up with increased demands for service and the retirement of baby boomers. The resulting shortage of mechanics is limiting TriMet's ability to add new service.

TriMet's only final proposal dealt with the mid-life remanufacturing of its light rail vehicles (LRV). A majority of TriMet's LRV fleet is nearing its mid-life point and is in need of remanufacturing to extend the life of the vehicles up to another 15 years. Each LRV travels nearly 63,000 miles each year. TriMet has proposed for an outside vendor to perform a ground-up remanufacturing of LRVs, something TriMet's staff have not done internally.

TriMet believes remanufacturing an LRV is more akin to trading away an old LRV and getting a new one in return than it is to day-to-day maintenance of the fleet. Under TriMet's proposal, union employees would continue to perform operating maintenance of the LRV fleet, unless otherwise agreed to by ATU.

In return, TriMet was willing to accept approximately 40 of ATU's proposals.

Key provisions of agreement include:

• Wage increase: 3.0% (12/2016, retroactive), 3.25% (12/2017), 3.25% (12/2018).

• Service Workers: In addition to the general wage increase, Service Workers would advance one step (resulting in an extra 6.6% wage increase (approximately) on top of the general wage increase.

•$1,000 one-time payment to approximately 300 Journey Workers.

• $1.00/hr. night shift differential for Station Agents, Dispatchers, Controllers, Road Supervisors, Rail Supervisors, Lead Supervisors, all Maintenance Division employees (up from $0.25 to $0.40/hr.)

• $350 annual uniform allowance (up from $315).

• Increase from $0.25 to $0.30 the rate per hour that unused sick leave hours upon retirement are converted to provide additional monthly pension benefits.

• Increase in annual boot and jacket allowance to $200 for Maintenance Division workers (up from $150).

• Three- and four-day workweeks made available to part-time Bus Operators

Roughly, 85% of TriMet's nearly 3,000-employee workforce is covered by the contract. Those employees have been working without a contract for a year and have been paying higher healthcare costs due to no contract in place.

More information can be found at https://trimet.org/newcontract.

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