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March 18, 2005

Wayne Morse Center director puts together team that ends Lane Transit District Strike

Wayne Morse Center director puts together team
that ends Lane Transit District Strike
The streets seemed calmer without Lane Transit District buses maneuvering in and out of traffic. But that was the only good thing about the March 7 strike by local bus drivers and the breakdown in negotiations that preceded it.

Bargaining for Lane County bus drivers Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 – had been dragging on since spring 2004 until talks stopped dead in December. The drivers were fighting for wage increases and to hold the line on contract language and health benefits. The LTD board was concerned about skyrocketing health insurance costs and wanted to implement cost containment measures. Both sides were angry.

Wayne Morse Center Director Margaret Hallock was worried. She was part of a community group that had managed to delay the walk-out for a few weeks, but, clearly, they had not been able to bring the two sides together.

The strike looked like it might continue with neither side giving an inch and community patience wearing thin. Something more needed to be done. And Hallock, who has been a key figure in Oregon labor circles for 30 years, knew enough about the people, the politics, and the process to do it, if it could be done at all.

Hallock directs the independent center at the law school endowed to carry on the work and spirit of the Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, a former dean of the law school. In 2003 and 2004, she served as a senior member of Gov. Kulongoski’s policy team, working on labor issues and workforce education and development. Before that, she directed the UO Labor Education and Research Center for twelve years. In the 1980s, she chaired Oregon’s pay equity commission and was a founding member of founding member of Oregon’s Workforce Quality Council.

Hallock started to push the idea of a community component to mediation. I talked to the mediator, Wendy Greenwald, who said she was out of ideas and was enthusiastic about trying a new plan, Hallock said.

Hallock recruited Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy and set up a Community Mediation Panel. She asked Lane Metro Partnership Director Jack Roberts an alumnus of the law school – and Eugene attorney Art Johnson to join them.  David Piercy, a former Eugene school district deputy superintendent with negotiations experience, completed the team.

Securing permission from the ATU and the LTD board took some talking, Hallock said, but both groups agreed to take part.   Once all was in place, mediator Greenwalt began what turned into 30 hours of negotiations.

It worked. We listened to both sides. By Thursday night (March 10) we had the main concept agreed to, Hallock said.

In the end, The district moved to a preferred provider health plan with some cost containment features while the workers got a safety net during the transition to a new type of health plan.

The buses started rolling again on Monday, March 14.

As you might guess, I am extremely happy about the outcome of the transit negotiations, Hallock said. Jack Roberts, in particular, made this a success, but we all played a part. It isn’t often that one can intervene and have it work perfectly!

Eugene Weekly

Eugene Register-Guard

-Eliza Schmidkunz

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