The Portland Area Workers’ Rights Board, a panel of lawyers, professors and labor activists who review local labor issues, will hold a hearing tonight to discuss the treatment of workers who drive for Trimet's LIFT Paratransit Service. LIFT offers rides to those with disabilities who can't use regular public transportation, but driver advocates say the contracted LIFT operator, First Transit, prevents drivers from taking legally required breaks.

Andrew Riley, communications coordinator for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 (ATU), the union that represents LIFT drivers, says the drivers have been without a union contract since 2016. “Drivers have a really hard time getting meal and rest breaks,” he says, and drivers are not able to use a bathroom. "People come to work wearing adult diapers,” Riley adds.

Oregon employers are required to provide a 30-minute rest period in each shift longer than six hours, and 10-minute breaks for every 4 hour period. But Riley says some drivers are given those breaks right at the beginning of their shifts, leaving them to wait for "five, six or seven hours before getting a break."

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TriMet does not operate LIFT itself—the service operates under a contract with First Transit, an international corporation that operates out of Cincinnati, Ohio. According to Riley, when labor rights problems are brought up, both TriMet and First Transit tend to play off one another,” blaming each other or the contract for the problems. “We’re not able to see a full un-redacted version of that contract so we kind of just have to take their word for it.”

The worker's rights board that will host tonight's panel is run by Portland Jobs with Justice, a labor rights coalition in Portland. Past hearings have created reports on specific companies or types of labor abuses in the Portland area, like a October report recommending Prosper Portland ditch an exploitative system for hiring construction workers. Speakers will include para-transit drivers, LIFT riders, and a public transportation systems specialist from Seattle who will speak about Seattle's Vancouver who will speak about her experience using a government-run paratransit system, instead of working with a contractor.

The hearing is scheduled for Thursday, May 17, 6:30-8 pm at the University of Oregon Portland campus, 70 NW Couch.