PORTLAND – Despite rumors that TriMet drivers frustrated with difficult contract negotiations were planning to cause a service slowdown Wednesday, the day was going along as usual.
As first reported in the Oregonian, bus drivers had been considering calling in sick, which could potentially impact thousands of people who use public transportation in Portland.
However, both TriMet and the drivers union – Amalgamated Transit Union 757 – had warned that a “sickout” would not only be unprofessional, but illegal.
“We are not sanctioning anything. I put it in writing to our members and to TriMet,” ATU 757 President Johnathan Hunt told kgw.com Tuesday morning. “We do not support any sort of illegal action.”
Hunt said that the drivers may still choose to stage the sickout, even without the backing of the union, but that was beyond his control. He said he understands drivers have been very frustrated as they continue to operate without a contract and efforts to negotiate with TriMet grow increasingly tense.
One hot button in particular was a recent memo from TriMet General Mananger Neil McFarlane announcing that drivers would have to start paying for a portion of their health insurance and have their pay frozen “to ensure the stability of TriMet’s future.”
Background: Memo announces pay freeze for TriMet drivers
“TriMet had unfortunately taken some tactics that has frustrated people even further,” Hunt said. “We will take every legal action in order to get this [the union negotiations] moving in the right direction.”
Meantime, TriMet officials assured that they have a contingency plan in place in case the drivers do stage a protest on Wednesday. TriMet also released a statement to the media which warned that “employees who engage in a work slowdown could be subject to discipline.”
“TriMet operators are professionals and most know that if they participated in a sick out it would adversely impact their coworkers and passengers,” spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said. “We do have contingency plans in place if there is a sick out. We would continue service but at reduced levels.”