I am so tired of writing about the battle between TriMet and the ATU. This is why I haven't said that much about it. But I have to give my two cents.
First, I must say again that I think the health care package for the Union workers is a bit higher than it should be. I think that their overall package is actually pretty balanced considering the remarkably low pension, but I think that the Union should be willing to make some consessions. Regardless of how well TriMet is managing their finances, remember that health costs are rising and will continue to rise. It won't be long until these costs do become a hindrance to TriMet's ability to put buses on the road even if all the other finances are managed perfectly.
However, why would you want to be willing to make consessions when you are always being treated like second-class citizens? I continue hearing saddening comments from reputable Union employees about how management is not really listening to them, that management's seeming obsession with safety doesn't translate into any actual improvements on the part of the driver. I've heard people say that TriMet used to be a "fun place to work" when management and Union employees were treated as equals. But things have changed and that TriMet has taken a coffee break and never came back.
It doesn't help that the only TriMet communications to the public concerning the Union, besides the Operators of the Year awards and the occasional heroics by one driver (which takes TriMet a week to even point out), is their endless quest to "beat" the Union at the bargaining table. Management has set up an environment of "them vs. us" that leads only to division and the breaking up of common ground. This isn't fair to anyone, especially the people on the front-lines who are literally risking their lives every day to get people where they need to go.
Now, unions aren't always very reputable. Some, like the Longshoremen running the terminals at the port, aren't really supporting the employees they represent but are instead supporting their agenda and their very existence. This is why I am very skeptical of unions and I am never quick to support them. Unions were very good when they started because employees were truly lacking rights and were treated very poorly. Times have changed, unions had their success, and now employees have rights and are (way) more often than not treated appropriately. I have always looked at most unions and seen people complaining that they are not getting everything they want from a corporation that has limited resources, while I watch my family's small business struggle to get by on a daily basis because of those same limited resources.
But the ATU 757 is different. The ATU division here in Oregon and SW Washington which represents employees for all Oregon transit agencies (plus C-Tran in Vancouver) has proven to me that they are much more reputable. There is one major reason: ATU leaders are current and former TriMet employees. They actually care about, understand, and have a vested interest in the success or failure of the agency itself. They get what operators and maintence workers have to deal with on a regular basis. They aren't just in it for the survival of their local union office.
Also, the ATU was quick to jump at the chance to negotiate a relatively rich healthcare package in the early 2000s when the TriMet managers at the time didn't have a firm hand on what was going on. But the ATU isn't offensive. They go about their business and try to make the city get where it's going. Then, one day, TriMet came at them, blaming them for all their budget problems that were really caused by their obsession with building light rail. It was a joke around the blogging world how predictable it was that every email would include a statement at the bottom stating that any good future events were based on victory over the Union. The Union didn't attack TriMet management; management made the Union its dartboard when anything went wrong.
TriMet fighting the Union is not like fighting an external agency; it is literally fighting your own people. No, the Union is not perfect. But they certainly have done nothing wrong to make management take it to them like they have. It's hard to bargain in good faith when you can't have faith that the other person is going to not stab you in the back.
So, TriMet, send out emails telling how much you love your operators. I won't believe it. It's going to take years to undo the damage you have already done. Please make all union and non-union employees feel appreciated and cared for, since without them the agency wouldn't be able to do anything.
Sending email bursts saying you have been victorious over the Union doesn't make me support you more. It alienates me. And it alienates them. You can't afford any of that, not now.