TriMet General Mananger Neil McFarlane announced in a letter and background memo to union drivers that they would start paying for a portion of their health insurance and have their pay frozen.

The wage freeze will take effect in December and the health plan changes in January, said McFarlane. More detailed information would be sent to operators in late October.

These are not easy decisions to make. I know they have an impact on you and your families, but I believe they are the right steps to take to ensure the stability of TriMet s future something we all want.

Non-union employees will enter into a third year of having their wages frozen, he said, and will continue a program already under way in which they have been paying a greater share of health care costs.

McFarlane invoked the changes using an interpretation of labor law that he believes allows such changes, while management and union are at an impasse in ongoing contract talks.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Division 75 responded in kind with a message of its own to members.

In it, the first salvo against McFarlane's move was not the freeze, or health benefits changes, but that they were announced while union leaders were at a Florida convention.

Putting aside whether these threats are legal (they are not) you should ask yourself why TriMet management had to take this action, in the absence of the Union officers, this week. The answer can only be management s crude attempt to incite anxiety in folks. Put even simpler--blatant and clumsy game playing.

The union promised to create a website within two weeks highlighting what it described as wasteful practices by the agency that will show TriMet is not as broke as it makes itself out to be.

A formal mediation session was scheduled for Oct. 22nd.

TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said McFarlane had not received a formal reply as of Wednesday from union officials.

These are not good times for the agency.

Citing a $27 million budget hole from declining payroll tax revenues and rising gasoline prices, TriMet raised fares earlier this month, while cutting service.

In November, voters will be asked to approve a $125 million bond measure to replace aging buses, purchase buses for the handicapped and improve bus stop amenities.

It's being sold as a way for boomers to have a bus system that meets the needs of an aging, less ambulatory population.

It's also being sold not as a tax increase, but as a continuation of taxes already being paid. The reference is to a 1990 bond measure that helped fun westside MAX that expires this year.

If the November measure passes, it would assess a tax of 8 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, or $28 for the owner of a $350,000 house.

In 1996 and 1998, bond measures for light rail into Clackamas County were defeated by voters, though the agency found other money to pay for it.

Recently, TriMet drivers have been fired for a double-fatal accident, and for reading a Kindle while driving. The accident resulted in a top-to-bottom review of safety practices, which included an explicit change about using electronic devices while driving.

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