DCTU gives strike notice to City of Portland

Workers at the City of Portland began constructing picket signs and developing strategies as they prepared to walk off their jobs Monday, Oct. 22.

A 10-day strike notice was filed Oct. 12 by the 1,800-member District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) following a day-long mediation session Oct. 10 that yielded no contract settlement.

Mediation sessions were scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 17, and Friday, Oct. 19 (after this issue went to press). The DCTU has scheduled a Prayer Vigil for 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, at City Hall on the Fourth Avenue side. Many church and community groups will participate.

"The ball is in the city's court," said DCTU spokeswoman Yvonne Martinez, a business representative of Oregon Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

AFSCME Local 189 is the largest union among the seven locals that make up the DCTU. The others are Laborers Local 483, Machinists District Lodge 24, Electrical Workers Local 48, Plumbers and Fitters Local 290, Operating Engineers Local 701 and Painters Local 10.

At the Oct. 10 session, union officials and a state mediator presented the city with a proposal asking them to accept a modified wage proposal and to leave the key sticking point - health care insurance coverage - unresolved for now.

The idea, union officials said, was to first avoid a strike and, second, to allow the other city employee unions - Fire Fighters Local 43, Bureau of Emergency Communications (Portland metro 9-1-1 operators who are also members of AFSCME Local 189) and the Portland Police Association - to meet with city officials jointly to find a way around the current high and rising costs of health care insurance.

"Their response was something less than embracing, although they didn't throw it back at us," said Jim McEchron, business manager of Laborers Local 483, during a strike committee meeting Oct. 11 that attracted about 75 city employees.

Fire Fighters Local 43 and the Portland Police Association have contracts with the city that expire next year. Those two bargaining units, along with the BOEC, are not allowed to strike and must resort to binding arbitration if they reach impasse in contract talks.

Don Loving, public affairs director for Oregon AFSCME and a spokesman for the DCTU, said part of the problem in the current labor dispute is the city's concern that "whatever we settle on will set a precedent for the other unions' negotiations."

In the PPA Blue Sheet newsletter, President Robert King said city officials have told him police officers could be facing as much as $250 per month in out-of-pocket payments for health insurance.

Last month DCTU members voted by a 3 to 1 margin to reject the city's "last and best" offer and to authorize a strike. According to the DCTU, the city is seeking a 25 percent cut in the cost of health insurance benefits by July 1, 2002. The union is trying to maintain full employer-paid benefits. The city is offering only cost-of-living wage increases for all employees and demanding the unlimited ability to contract out work.

October 19, 2001 issue

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