Ratification of Portland, DCTU contract proposal uncertain

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 189 Executive Board is recommending that members reject a tentative contract agreement between the City of Portland and the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU).

The DCTU is a coalition of seven locals that bargain jointly with the city on behalf of 1,800 public employees. Local 189 represents the largest unit, with 1,100 members.

A tentative deal on a new three-year contract was reached in the early morning hours of Oct. 22 following a 5 1/2 hour strike. The marathon 17-plus-hour bargaining session began at noon on Oct. 21. That final session followed up a 12-hour session on Oct. 17 and a 13-hour session on Oct. 19 that failed to reach an agreement.

The DCTU had issued a 10-day notice to strike, effective at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 22. The previous contract expired June 30.

"Although the strike technically began at 12:01 a.m. Monday, the unions agreed to hold off on picketing because they were still negotiating," said Don Loving, director of public affairs for Oregon Council 75 of AFSCME.

Negotiations almost collapsed shortly after 5 a.m. on Oct. 22 when the city - with Mayor Vera Katz sitting at the table - demanded seniority and contracting-out language takebacks as a final piece to a settlement. The DCTU refused, and pickets went up at several locations across the city at 5:10 a.m.

After about 15 minutes of picketing the city pulled back its demands and the settlement was reached soon thereafter.

City employees will now vote on the proposal over the next two weeks.

At press time, Executive Boards of five unions in the DCTU had voted to recommend to their members that the contract be ratified. The second-largest bargaining unit - Laborers Local 483 had not yet taken a position.

"It's a tentative deal with a capital T," said Jim McEchron, business manager of Local 483. "I truly don't know what our Executive Board will do."

The DCTU called an emergency meeting Monday, Oct. 29, after discovering a discrepancy in the city's version of the contract proposal pertaining to the "indexing" of employee contributions to health insurance premiums.

Health care insurance and who should pay for it was a key sticking point throughout the negotiations. What the sides settled on was creation of a committee with other city unions (including the Portland Police Association and Fire Fighters Local 43, which have contracts that expire next year) to redesign the basic health insurance plan the city offers.

The goal is to cut plan costs by either 19 or 25 percent (nothing in between). The Kaiser Permanente plan will be cut by 9.1 percent. Even with a 25 percent reduction, city officials project that total health care costs will rise more than 14 percent, from $38.9 million to $44.4 million during the three-year contract.

The city will pick up the full cost of the DCTU health insurance package for the first two years of the contract.

In the third year, employee contributions will be tied to the plan redesign. If the 25 percent reduction is attained, monthly employee contributions will average $10 for a single, $20 for two-party and $30 for family coverage. The money will be taken from each payroll on a pre-tax basis.

Employee contributions will be indexed based on employee salary, so the actual amount paid will vary from employee to employee, with lower-paid workers paying a lower amount, Loving said.

If the plan redesign is cut by 19 percent, monthly employee contributions will be $20 for single, $35 for two-party and $50 for family coverage.

Some members of the DCTU bargaining team thought that the indexing was uniform for both reduction plans - which led to the special-call meeting Oct. 29.

At that meeting a majority of DCTU officials (as an affiliate each union has one vote) determined that indexing kicked in only if the 25 percent reduction was met.

Later that same night, Local 189's Executive Board met and voted to recommend to its membership that the contract proposal be rejected.

Operating Engineers Local 701, Electrical Workers Local 48, Machinists Local 1005, Painters Local 10, and Plumbers and Fitters Local 290 are all recommending ratification.

The proposal offers an across-the-board, cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of 2.9 percent, retroactive to July 1, 2001, and additional COLAs of between 2 to 5 percent - based on the Portland area Consumer Price Index - on July 1 of 2002 and 2003.

A "me-too" clause was included in the proposal to protect DCTU members should any other group of city employees get a better deal from the city regarding health insurance.

In September, city employees rejected a contract proposal by a 3-to-1 margin.

November 2, 2001 issue

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