Preliminary negotiations between TriMet and the union that represents its operators, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, mostly went nowhere this weekend after the two sides failed to agree even on some basic "ground rules" meant to guide more substantive talks on issues like health care premiums and pay.
But before talks stopped Saturday after several hours, the two sides did manage to jointly agree on one thing: the list of publications and media outlets who are explicitly allowed to attend the contract talks. (Once, that is, the talks actually begin; that's still unknown.)
Update 3:40 PM: The union this afternoon has replied to TriMet with a letter (pdf) offering potential dates for negotiations to start. (In it, the union asks TriMet not to use email to schedule meetings, because of technical issues with it system. Emails sent to and from TriMet, it's worth noting, also would be public records.)
The list of approved outlets looks much like a list sent out days ago by ATU, with the addition of the overlooked Portland Business Journal, a helpful suggestion from TriMet. Of note, it includes the NW Labor Press—which receives subscription money from ATU, and also from dozens of other local unions, but retains sole control over its editorial content.
But now let's look at whom it doesn't include: members of the public or any of the voracious, vociferous, and occasionally venomous amateur bloggers who make sport (and sometimes break news) out of charting the transit agency's every snort and sniffle. That includes Al Margulies, who runs Rantings of a Former TriMet Bus Driver. And also Lane Jensen, who runs PDX Transit Lane.
That was deliberate, at least on TriMet's part. Its officials have held fast to words like "mainstream" and "unaffiliated" when discussing this issue, and it's clear the bloggers get under their skin with personal comments aimed at its top executives. But the move is also dicey. Margulies is a former employee and union member but has a following—getting a writeup in Willamette Week this year as someone to watch in Portland. His blog was first to post the video of a MAX train hurtling down Interstate 84 with its door open.
Margulies—whose blog includes a Photoshopped picture of TriMet GM Neil McFarlane's head topped with a dick—has since blogged some of his thoughts:
The bloggers are a direct threat to the power brokers at Trimet. The bloggers are not constrained by niceties of politics or relationships or money. The bloggers don't play that game. The bloggers create their material on their own time and at their own expense. They do it because they are passionate about the subject. Bloggers are not impressed with false promises and phony propaganda. Bloggers dont have 'committees' or 'meetings'. Bloggers are completely independent of that nonsense. Trimet executives are so scared of them the will not allow them to attend the negotiations.
Further, to hear the union tell it (or at least read what it wrote in its press release after the negotiations Saturday), the question of
letting bloggers in may have helped drive the impasse. The ATU says TriMet negotiator Randy Stedman said "fuck" and then, "to the surprise of those present, stated the meeting was over. The unexpected, abrupt ending of the meeting meant the Union did not have an opportunity to respond to Mr. Stedman’s concerns by presenting a counter proposal." Update 8:40 AM: To clarify, ATU said in its press release that "In an effort to insure [sic] media access, the Union abandoned its position of allowing bloggers to attend." The union also said it listed the names of three bloggers "well-known to be of particular concern" to TriMet management in the past," and then, in the next paragraph, made its claim about Stedman's alleged outburst. That was seen as a bid by the ATU to put the onus solely on TriMet.
But Oregonian commuter columnist and transportation reporter Joe Rose notes a back-and-forth between the union and TriMet that may point to another reason for the delay: an ongoing legal impasse over an arbitrator's decision to side with TriMet over the two sides' last contract agreement.
"It’s clear that the ATU does not want to enter substantive negotiations until their challenge to the past contract is decide," TriMet said in their press release.
It's tiring for the neck, but we'll keep watching this game of ping pong. And we'll try to get to at least the opening session of contract talks.