TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane told non-union employees at the transit agency today their wage freeze of the past two years will continue in 2011—and they'll have to pick up more of their health-care costs.

He also told union employees, who are at a bargaining impasse with TriMet, there will be a new wage freeze for them this December as well as a requirement they pick up some share of their health-care costs.

This all comes at the same time TriMet is trying to get voters to OK a $125 million bond request in the Nov. 2 election.

Here's the memo McFarlane, who took over as GM this year, sent employees this morning:


Early in my new role as your general manager, I expressed my commitment to following the TriMet Board's directive to provide TriMet with a “sustainable financial future.” My responsibility is to guarantee that TriMet's decisions are in the best interest of the agency and ensures our future success. With the region's economic recovery still grim, that future becomes more at risk. Part of that solution remains moving toward sustainable health care costs while continuing to offer the best possible coverage for our employees.

With that guidance from our Board and after careful consideration, I am taking the following steps.

Effective January 1, 2011, non-union employees will have a moderate increase in the employee share of monthly health insurance premiums, and the salary freeze that has been in place for the past two years will continue.

Changes must also be made on the union side. While we entered into contract negotiations in good faith, an agreement could not be reached. The recent Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) complaint submitted by the ATU has further delayed this process. Continuing without a signed agreement puts our financial stability in serious jeopardy.

I have sent a letter to Jon Hunt, ATU President, specifically outlining the details of these changes, which involve a new wage freeze effective December 2010, as well as employees paying a share of monthly premiums effective January 1, 2011. I have attached a detailed outline of the changes proposed in the letter. Even with this decision, I will continue to pursue working with the ATU to find ways that minimize the financial hardship this may cause employees and ensure TriMet's long-term fiscal stability. For example, we have suggested to the ATU that a revised health plan be offered at no additional monthly premium cost to TriMet or the employee (as outlined in the attached).

In late October, all employees will receive information for this upcoming open enrollment outlining health coverage choices, including exactly how much each option would cost. Additional information will be provided by the Benefit staff and consistent with past years, provider representatives will be available during the enrollment period.

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.