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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tri-Met brass: It's all the union's fault

The head of Portland's insolvent transit agency has taken to badmouthing his employees' unions these days. But he can't seem to make that speech without a "planning" consultant from CH2M Hill next to him. Ah, those consultants -- who make the millions setting up money-burning rail projects like the insane WES train and the equally nutty Mystery Train to Milwaukie. Yes, the unions have overreached in recent years, but when Tri-Met ends up in bankruptcy and the workers get maneuvered out of their pensions, you won't see CH2M Hill giving back any money.

Comments (30)

True. But it would still be interesting to see what Tri-Met's finances would look like under a single-payer ("Medicare for all") health care system. And I blame the union less for taking solid gold benefits than I do Tri-Met's board and management for offering them.

It's just decent HEALTH CARE for crying out loud.

Decent health care for Americans!

When did that become a crime against humanity?

I know the world wide race to the bottom is heading everyone to the status of GREECE but it's just healthcare.

Bus drivers get sick, get dead, before almost every other profession.

It's a horrible job that ends up killing you.

Back in the day, it was a good job. People didn't spit in bus drivers face,
hoodlums didn't control the streets, government actually cared about people before business, you could hit your kids without going to jail, THERE WERE ACTUAL STANDARDS OF BEHAVIOR THAT PEOPLE WERE EXPECTED TO FOLLOW.

Not so anymore, the world has gone nuts and now its actually dangerous to be a bus driver.


Now the rail criminal Macfarlane with his high paid cronies sitting next to him, eat, drink, laugh, talk about all the money they have made on the backs of the tax payers and the citizens by pushing all these rail projects onto the streets of Portland while giving the disabled the finger, raising the riders fares over and over while cutting their service, and telling their employees "tough luck if you get sick and you die".

We are no where near the highest paid transit district, and the reason for that is WE GAVE UP RAISES FOR DECENT HEALTH CARE.

You work 30 years as a bus driver you walk away with a pension of $2250.

Fred Hansen worked as the General Manager for a little over 10 years and walked away a rich man with a pension of $15,700 A MONTH...

$15,700 A MONTH.

Who knows what his health care retirement package is.

Who is dragging down the transit agency?

Oh sure it's the Union's fault! And everything al m said!
Tri-Met management sucks! They can't run a business, but have control over billions of taxpayer dollars.

Allan, I see TriMet's troubles as being caused equally by the unions and the Board/Management.

Microcosmically it's like many of our PDC urban renewal advisory committees. Since most are all "stakeholders" they scratch each others backs in doling out the money.

TriMet has given out all kinds of benefit concessions as the Union nodded yes to having 1 to 7 management to driver ratio, and having the highest management costs of all transit agencies in the country. It's a two way street helping each other grab from the taxpayer's bag.

"And I blame the union less for taking solid gold benefits than I do Tri-Met's board and management for offering them."

Yep. Management is to blame also. But most of the unions largess is not "offered", it is extracted by the unions' (including all government unions) threat to slow down or shut down their various operations.

The reason why schools will be spending much more for retired teachers (and therefore larger class sizes) in the future is due to extraction, not voluntary "offerings".

TriMet's management and planners reveal a lack of understanding of economics, geometry, game theory, and even human physiology: the two-minute "relief break" is a recipe for kidney stones. (Or at least distracted drivers.)

It's a two way street

I'd like to think that, but it's hard to imagine how or why the union would settle for less than management is willing to agree to. I'm sorry that the legislature took the unions right to strike away; in today's job environment, union workers could pretty easily be replaced if they decided to strike. That reality could moderate the union's ambitions. And the arbitration process seems not to work in anyone's interest.

Yeah go ahead and blame the worker for trying to make enough to live and contribute to the local economy.

That is what you call the final siren of the American Dream.

We have let the banking/financial/military class destroy our economy, but it's all the workers fault.

Say Tri-Met, when you go to borrow Millions of Dollars for questionable projects, where do you go?

New York? London?

Isn't that the problem? You have taken our public assets and given it to the banking class and now they own your ass.

Dumb Asses!

A long ago TriMet management and the union agreed to provide lifetime healthcare for their retirees and their spouses.

But neither insisted that they have any means to pay for it.

What was their plan? There wasn't any.

Now that single fringe benefit unfunded liability is exploding as is nears $1 billion.

TriMet's independent auditor Moss-Adams
has calculated that and ADDITIONAL $70 million PER YEAR is needed to keep it from getting worse.

Neither the current labor dispute or McFarlane are addressing this severe problem.

However, when McFarlane was recently asked about how they are going to deal with this problem he told the inquiring local elected official that TriMet believes more light rail lines will provide the savings needed to fund the benefit.

People need to understand how insane this is and how shallow, inept and unethical all of TriMet management is.

This week a variety of electeds are going to DC to lobby for the federal funding for the Mystery Train to Milwaukie.

Shouldn't the public to told exactly what people like Clackamas County commissioners Lehan and Bernard will be telling the feds and congress?

Or are these anti-voter politicians free to use tax dollars to lobby in secret with any propaganda they make up?
While the Clackistani Rebels have to find their own way to let DC know what is going on?
IMHO the county should be forced to make their message public and provide equal funding and opportunity for the public & truth to be heard in DC.

Word has circulated in Tualatin that youth gang types have been riding WES, getting off and pilfering stores like Haggen and heading back out on WES.

Where is the news coverage.

Just give all Trimet assets to the union. Let the mismanagement problems be figured out instead of the endless crosstalk. Make it work or the jitneys will take over.

To those who thinks that a transit strike would be a good thing, go check out what happened in NYC when the transit stopped running for a couple of days.

Of course that was NYC where people actually use transit, Portland is a different story.

It does take some training to drive a bus.
You can't just hire off the street, that takes a couple weeks at least.

But then there is the LIGHT RAIL, that requires MUCH MORE TRAINING, and you just can't hire off the street for that.

If I were running this union I would authorize a strike. That's what Macfarlane seems to want, I say we give it to him.

Hell its either fight or roll over, It will come to that eventually anyway I am sure.

Any way here is some more background. This was a comment left on Portland A-Foots interview with the sock puppet Cynthia Chilton.
The financial problem has been a long time in the making. Ask any employee of TriMet's Training Department, and you can discover that this is a hole dug by TriMet management a long time ago. Three decades ago, full retirement was at age 62, with a 20 year vesting for Union employees. The pension was tiny. But there was the promise of improving seniority over time, and health care in retirement. Employees could retire early at age 55, but with a much-reduced pension -- out of compassion for drivers who developed health problems and could no longer drive. It was hard to survive retirement at 55 with no social security until 62, and a tiny pension. TriMet is not part of PERS.

The big change came when management demanded part time drivers be included in the contract. This was implemented in such a way that all new drivers must start out part time. Combine the low starting wage with short hours, and it turns out that young people with a family can't afford to work as bus drivers. New hires tended to be empty nesters in their 40's, 50's, and even 60's looking for a pension and health care. Over time, the full retirement age was dropped to 58, with a 10-year vesting period, and during Tom Walsh's rule as GM, the pension was raised to a fairer level, but still far below PERS. The contract also required that the pensions, but not the retiree health care, be fully funded, something to be phased in over a 40 year period. Subsequent policy has been to bring the pension fund to full funding over a 20 year period. The pension fund would have been well on the way to full funding, if not for the massive drop in the stock market, which is now in recovery.

The problem, now coming home to roost, is that TriMet has promised to pay full health care for life for a 55 year old retiree with 10 years of service, and there are a lot of folks retiring at 10 years.

TriMet's offer to the Union, recently thrown out by the ERB, took a machete to this problem. If their proposal had been upheld, many senior employees would have retired, in order to take advantage of the old contract. This was a stupid idea. Once a TriMet employee reaches 55, every year they keep working saves TriMet one year of retiree health and pension payouts, at the cost of a very modest increase in eventual pension. If TriMet could keep most employees working until 65, they would save a huge amount, because the health care cost for retirees 65 and over is paid in large part by Medicare.

Where TriMet should be engaging the Union is in trying to work out an agreement that gradually vests the full cost of retiree health care over significantly more than 10 years, and that adjusts the agreement about part time drivers so that older full time drivers can choose part time work without losing seniority, thereby allowing new hires a greater opportunity to work a full 40 or more hours per week. This would bring in employees at a younger age, allowing the cost of pensions and health care to be amortized over something like 30 years, rather than 10 years. While still allowing early retirement at 55, there should be an incentive to work up to age 65.

If your Mercer interviewee is so sharp about employee benefits, why doesn't she understand the above concepts? Did management fail to clue her in? Did she just not ask questions? I am sorry to be submitting this so late after the interview, but these are important issues that management and the TriMet Board seems not to understand.

Now I'm confused.

Do I now sign my fully paid for home over to PERS, Portland Fire & Police Retirement & Disability fund, Multnomah County or Crime-Met ?

I know they'll all be whittling away at my equity until it's all gone. I hate dying the death of a thousand cuts !

Tri-Moot's board should be elected, rather than appointed by the governor. It might not improve things immediately, but it'd be a start.

The larger problem, both at Tri-Moot and Metro (and CoPo) is to be found in the entrenched bureaucracies - the unelected dictators who actually control things. Absent an effective means of citizen oversight, nothing's really going to change.

Al is always blaming everything and everyone else for Tri Mets troubles. Granted, management is problematic and the the fantasy rail world is a big problem. But its the union that is the biggest problem... Unions are their own worst enemy these days with the gold plated demands and protection of worthless employees who could never last in a non union occupation. Wake up union members....

But its the union that is the biggest problem…

Right on. Working people are the scourge of this country.

Allan is correct.

As is the rest of Hoffa: "Unions are their own worst enemy these days with the gold plated demands and protection of worthless employees who could never last in a non union occupation."

Worthless anything are the scourge, including the employees who should be fired instead of protected by the union. I'm glad I'm not union, since those deadbeat worthless employees (even if only the bottom 10%) give the majority of hard working union members a bum rap.

Why does the union protect the worthless ones, especially the pedophiles and other sexual deviants? Are all of them always innocent, like Adams, Goldy? Nope.

22K a year per employee for health care? You can do Kaiser's premium plan with full dental, prescriptions, vision, etc. for less than half of that. It sounds like they need to shop around a little. BTW decent health care doesn't have to be platinum plated health care.

it's hard to imagine how or why the union would settle for less than management is willing to agree to

Oh I see it's, "hate the game, not the playa."

We shouldn't blame unions for negotiating deals that end up bankrupting the companies that employ them....even though government requires the employer to participate in a collective bargaining system that is stacked in favor of the unions.

This particular corporate employer (tri-met) derives its revenues by compelling businesses to pay a tri-met tax (whether or not they receive any benefit).

The "employer" in this case is a board of political appointees who are not responsible to any shareholders (neither the voters nor businesses paying the tri-met tax). The tri-met board answers only to the governor who (for the last three decades in Oregon) was elected with union money.

The problem I have with Allan and Al's "don't be a hater" argument is that it ignores the fact that the playas spend tens millions of dollars every political cycle to design and defend a "game" that primarily benefits themselves.

What we are watching is a local example of the slow-motion collapse of the Democratic Party's political machine (the GOP machine collapse is ongoing but started earlier - triggered by unnecessary wars and bailouts, but that's a different topic).

The point is there isn't enough money available to keep everything greased for the Dem Party Machine anymore. The people in charge don't know how to get any more money (without borrowing it) and the wheels are starting to come off.

Most of the major airlines (excluding Alaska and SW), two of the Big 3 automakers, and hundreds of formerly successful manufacturing companies have sought bankruptcy when union negotiations failed to bring needed concessions.

With the exception of Chrysler and GM, those bankruptcies almost always destroyed the future health and pension benefits for retirees.

Years prior to bankruptcy, informed analysts recognized that unions were bleeding their employers dry, but that didn't cause a change of course or tactics.

But that's no reason to be anti-union, not if you're a Socialist.

Its not just the union's greed or management's "offer," the structure of Oregon's collective bargaining law (orinially written by Ted Kulongowski) and the state agency adminstering the law are anti-citizen. The union does not have to "slow down" anything, they get what is called interest arbitration where a contract dispute is settled by the award of an arbitrator. However, the arbitrator has to follow a formula in the collective bargaining law which, by design, is weighted against public entities and the interests of everyday citizens. After four decades of this law, our schools, public transit and other public services can barely function. There is a possible ( and this is only a possible) short-term and long- term "solution" to this morass:

Short-Term - Tri-Met declares bankruptsy and the assets are sold off either to a private entity (crazy enough to buy it) or an NP-NGO created to provide the services. The Tri-Met board is dissolved. The top two tiers of management are fired as are most of the first level supervisors. The labor contracts are dissolved and the new entity starts over - hopefully with some savvy management.

Long-Term - Oregon's collective bargaining law is fundamentally restructured so as to put citizens' interest above all other considerations in all circumstances. Workers should not have their collective bargaining rights gutted, but niether should the collective bargaining process trump the broader interest of maintaining cost-effective public services. Further, the agency which has had the authority to adminster and interpret the collective bargaining law, the Oregon Employment Relations Board, should be dismantled and the anti-citizen bureaucrats it has in it employ should all be fired (if not indicted for crimes against the citizens).

Pancho nails it by pointing out the welfare state is coming to an end. Primarily because the idiots who dreamed it up (mostly liberals) never figured out how to pay for it. They just started giving money away and assumed someone else would pick up the tab sometime down the road. Well, it appears that we're getting close to the end of the road. Europe is getting there a little quicker than us, but since nobody in power seems to have a clue how to stop the process we're continuing to head in the same direct. TriMet is just one example of this thinking and it obviously doesn't stop there. Any place that liberals have been running for a significant period of time is headed towards bankruptcy. Someday people will figure that out.

The Portlandia future from Stockton:

"This week CBS Sacramento reported that Stockton was considering precisely that:

The possibility of filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. If it happens, Stockton would be the largest California city to go bankrupt.

It would follow in the footsteps of Vallejo, California, which was itself “the largest city to declare bankruptcy when it did so in 2008.”

Vallejo emerged from bankruptcy in mid-2011 by cutting costs and raising revenue:

Among other changes, city staffers now contribute more to their health insurance, new firefighters have lower pension plans, and the fire department no longer has minimum staffing requirements.

That which can't go on, won't. Unsustainable. The union largess gets much smaller.

Portland will go where the unions are leading it. It will not be pretty, but change will happen. The current path is unsustainable.

Neil McFarlane is using the union as a scapegoat for one simple reason: his only concern is building more rail.

Case in point: TriMet's budget would be balanced with just two very, very, very simple cuts:

Cut WES. And Cut the subsidy to the City of Portland Streetcar.

Both of those are about $6.5 million a pop - so $13 million. That leaves $1 million in the black for TriMet.

Say, that recent court ruling that TriMet violated employment and contract law added another $5 million. Fine. Cut TriMet's Marketing and Capital Projects departments. Ta da. Budget balanced.

I have 20 other suggestions that would put TriMet so freaking far into the black, it would be able to restore every service cut it's made in the last several years, AND reduce fares.

Now, why wouldn't TriMet want to do that? Because it hits Neil McFarlane and his pet projects very hard. It admits that rail is unsustainable. It admits that rail riders don't pay their full share, and that some of the rail costs are unfairly attributed to bus ridership. It admits that the bus network has artificially increased costs due to fiscal mismanagement and disinvestment - and forces TriMet to address those issues, namely by replacing half of the bus fleet with new, modern, fuel-efficient buses, as well as eliminating the "one-size-fits-all" policy of the bus fleet. (Just because it works for Southwest Airlines that can pick and choose where it serves, doesn't mean it works for TriMet which is legally obligated to serve the entire region despite the actual amount of transit service needed.)

If McFarlane were truly serious about killing the unions off he could put TriMet into Chapter 9 (municipal bankruptcy). There's just one little problem with that approach - TriMet's credit rating would be in the gutter, and he would kiss any future light rail construction good-bye (because TriMet wouldn't be able to sell bonds for awhile.) So Chapter 9 is off-limits for McFarlane.

Thus, a calculated public attack on the unions. It MUST be their fault. It MUST be all those employees that are required to actually drive the buses and the trains, that fix those buses and trains, that maintain the infrastructure. And there's no easy way to reduce the number of employees - TriMet is currently short-staffed in bus Operators.

McFarlane knows that he needs the tax revenue that comes from areas only served by buses, so reducing TriMet to becoming a rail-only agency is not an option (there are plenty of them around - CalTrain, Altamont Commuter Express and Metrolink in California come to mind; Sound Transit in Seattle could technically be considered as such, since the ST Express bus routes are actually operated by other agencies.) He's in a bind. He can't reduce TriMet, he can't declare Chapter 9, he can't reduce staffing. And he doesn't want to reduce the internal inefficiencies, or reduce rail service, or admit that WES was a failure, or that TriMet has no business using regional funds to give to the City of Portland.

Thus...attack the unions in an unprofessional manner.

Frankly, I'm surprised that the Democrats in Salem haven't started questioning him and demanding that he answer to his public statements...the State Capitol, and the Governor, are to whom the Board of Directors report to. They serve at the pleasure of the Governor, and could be removed at any time, if the Board is unwilling to show some backbone and do their job - they seem to act as a rubber stamp to the GM. Imagine if our State Capitol just rubber-stamped the Governor...or if the federal Capitol rubber-stamped the White House. Yet, that is precisely how TriMet is apparently run.

I welcome a trimet strike.

Then we can see if Trimet really relieves congestion.

My bet is that it slightly relieves congestion in downtown and increases congestion in the rest of the city.

We know, beyond reasonable doubt, that MAX severely increased congestion on Interstate ave.

I'll also bet that most people will find other ways to get around.

Here is Trimet’s real dirty little secret:

McFarland claims 330,000 daily riders. That is 165,000 people making round trips. TriMet’s annual spending is $534,027,000, so that is $3236 per daily rider.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the average American with an income under $70,000 per year spends $3121 per year on a car. That is all costs including car payments, insurance, repairs and fuel.

So Trimet actually costs more than the owning and operating a car! Such a poster child for smart growth & mass transit! See: http://www.pdxtransport.com/ for the details.

(Before some transit advocate rants about serving the needy: give them a car if they can drive. If they can’t drive, give them jitney fare. They will get faster, door to door service and all of Portland will save a boatload of money.)


Before we leave the topic of union benefits, it is my understanding that TriMet employees have a "Cadillac" plan that requires them to pay very little or nothing out of pocket for services. I believe that every person should pay something toward their healthcare as it makes them more responsible for the total amount and cost of the services they ask for and receive. Without skin in the game, there is no reason to care about cost of services and the healthcare benefit package costs soar.

Erik H: They serve at the pleasure of the Governor, and could be removed at any time, if the Board is unwilling to show some backbone and do their job - they seem to act as a rubber stamp to the GM.

Given the guv's recent appointments (as a Tigard resident, pro-rail Prosser should be familiar to you), and especially his decision not to extend a second term to the only director who ever brought forward any questions about TriMet's sanity, I'd say a rubber stamp is precisely what he expects and desires the Board of Directors to be.

So many bad and self-serving decisions have been made by the Tri-Met Board and the operational Leadership of Tri-Met. It is hurting our regions ability to compete in the World-Marketplace. To me the only solution is for it to be taken to a chapter 11-type bankruptcy and restructured.

The suggestion that it needs an elected Board of Director is, "Right-On". We cannot afford to continue having the wolf guarding the Hen House, in that I mean the public's interests.

The whole Tri-Met System needs to be paired down with the complete elimination of development staff, that separate's it from Tri-Met. The current model is fiscal model is Bankrupt.

The whole Tri-Met System needs to be paired down with the complete elimination of development staff, that separate's it from Tri-Met

We have that, in theory. Metro is responsible for regional transportation planning. We've all see how well that works - forcing land use and transportation together, and transportation projects only get built if Metro agrees to it, rather than by actual needs for transportation infrastructure.

Then TriMet has its own planners for light rail...on top of the City of Portland streetcar/light rail planners...

Given the guv's recent appointments

Which is precisely why I voted against the guy in the first place.

(from "Adelaide Now" May 17, 2009),

"Mr Hansen's home town of Portland is internationally recognised as one of the finest exponents of a sustainable and integrated public transport system."

Memo to Neal: we should invite Fred Hansen and Sam Adams to Tri-Met's bankruptcy announcement...

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