“The derailment of the Max train on Monday, was the result of TriMet’s practice of deferring both maintenance and training in favor of system expansion and other expenditures,” says Union vice president, Jonathan Hunt. Tuesday, KOIN carried a story about a train derailment that was caused by a bracket breaking. This incident was no surprise to the mechanics who fear even more brackets might give way.
“The train was one of the seventeen-year old type 2 trains that were added to the system in 1997. Undercarriage overhauls of these type 2 trains are way past due. That overhaul would have replaced that bracket. Additionally, to save money on maintenance, TriMet has held back on ordering inventory so it cannot timely obtain replacement brackets.” Hunt says the problem was in October. “We can’t blame the mechanics or the front line managers. It’s upper management that decides what money will be spent and when.”
Hunt puts the blame squarely on the fact that too much in operational funds have been shunted into the Milwaukie expansion, high tech radio and ticket systems, new administrative buildings, new furniture and an excess of highly paid executives. “As the Tribune recently noted, we warned last February that rail system and its equipment was not being maintained properly. Finally, in November, the general manager announces he is re-organizing TriMet, in part, to emphasize rail system maintenance.”
Further Hunt notes that as TriMet added trains and more lines, it should have been training more people. Instead, it reduced the number of trainees. He notes that the result is a shortage of qualified mechanics.
“Management’s last minute solution is to add off-the-street, undertrained, lower paid mechanics,” says Hunt about a recent management proposal. “Once again, it’s the workers who are to suffer for management’s mistakes.” The Union rejected that proposal according to Hunt, saying, “We are not going to accept lower pay for what is a highly-skilled, dirty, physically demanding job. Nor will we accept inadequately trained people. Too many lives are on the line–the passengers, public and operators are all equally at risk. When one of these trains derails hundreds of people can be hurt. We’ve seen that happen in other parts of the country.”
Hunt sees an even bigger problem with TriMet management’s handling of this and other issues. He noted that last Wednesday, on November 13th, TriMet management issued press releases and made statements at the agency Board meeting–telling the Board that the agency was turning over a new leaf. “Management claimed they were going to be more open to involving the community and more transparent. That’s what they said with much fanfare,” Hunt said, adding “Unfortunately, it means even more operational funds will be diverted to promote this ‘transparency effort.’ It’s an effort they should be making as a matter of course.”
That promise was short-lived according to Hunt. “Two things happened this week that make us question management’s sincerity. First is where TriMet refused to provide KOIN reporters with easy to locate information related to the train derailment–information that has nothing to do with “security.” The second is the KOIN report about TriMet’s plans to site a drivers’ break room. Not only does TriMet stonewall citizens in the affected community but it also doesn’t bother to consult the drivers themselves. So far, from what I hear, the drivers support the community’s alternative site.”
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1801 NE Couch Street
Portland, OR 97232
Join us next Wednesday, November 13th, at the TriMet November Board meeting. We encourage all of you to show up and demonstrate your ATU solidarity to the Board.
An encouraging message from Larry Hanley to all members of ATU
TriMet’s Multi-Million Dollar Radio System Continues to Fail
“TriMet’s multi-million dollar radio system continues to be plagued with serious problems,” reports Amalgamated Transit Union President Bruce Hansen. Yesterday, October 30th, Bus 2808 was at the intersection of 185th and SW Farmington Road. The time was approximately 11:10 a.m. A horrified bus operator watched as an automobile struck a pedestrian. It was obvious that the pedestrian was seriously injured. The bus operator quickly tried to summon assistance by punching the bus’s emergency alarm.
What was supposed to happen was that an alarm would sound in TriMet dispatch and the dispatcher would summon ambulance, police and fire to the scene.
What actually happened when the alarm sounded threw the dispatch crew into a panic. When dispatchers answered the alarm, all they heard were muffled words that sounded like “I am in…” Three words and then the entire radio system, covering the whole district, went dead.
The dispatchers were frantic. They knew there was an emergency somewhere on Bus 2808’s route. They didn’t know why the system was down but until it was back up, they were cut off from all operators.
In an effort to jump-start the communication, the entire system was shut down and re-booted. That process takes six to ten minutes. And they had no way of knowing whether the re-boot would work.
While the computer technicians frantically worked to bring the radio system up, the dispatchers tried to determine where to send help. They reached a road supervisor, via his hand held radio, and he began driving the route of the bus. Luckily, the supervisor quickly found the bus and help was summoned to the seriously injured pedestrian.
“Unfortunately, the new system continues to fail,” says Hansen. “The stress these repeat radio system failures place on the dispatchers, operators and supervisors is tremendous. In the last month, the system has failed at least three times. That is three times too many when lives are at risk.” Hansen blames the radio problems on the fact that TriMet never involved the dispatchers in the radio system selection process. “The workers’ expertise was once again ignored during the multi-million dollar purchase. In the past, the workers were involved and the end result was equipment that worked better and had fewer problems.”
The really sad part about this is the dispatchers that bring up the problem is being labeled as trouble makers or not wanting to do their jobs. Trimet has spent millions on this system and it still has bugs that one day might cause someone their life or serious injuries.
Transit Union and TriMet Bargaining Teams Meet Today
The parties began bargaining for the first time today. The Union began by asking questions about TriMet’s extensive proposals (over 400). In the afternoon, the Union provided TriMet with the non-economic part of the Union’s proposed changes. These are the changes the Union would like to see in the parties’ labor agreement. Most of these proposals addressed working conditions and safety issues. Asked why the Union did not provide an economic proposal, Union president Bruce Hansen stated that the Union is still waiting for TriMet to provide up-to-date health insurance information, including the anticipated costs for the next year. “Until the Union has accurate information about the cost of health insurance, we cannot formulate any economic proposals. TriMet understands this, given the emphasis they have been placing on the cost of health insurance,” says Hansen. He also noted that these costs are necessary to determine whether the health insurance that TriMet’s broker selects is, in fact, the best deal for the members and the taxpayer.