Portland city workers move closer to strike

City of Portland employees represented by the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) inched closer to a strike Aug. 16 after declaring impasse in negotiations. If no agreement is reached, the earliest day to walk out is Saturday, Sept. 22.

The impasse notice follows months of unproductive negotiations, said Yvonne Martinez, a staff representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 189 and chief spokesperson for the DCTU, a coalition of eight locals representing approximately 1,850 city employees at the Water Bureau, Maintenance Bureau, Police Bureau, Planning and Support Division, Printing and Distribution, and the Bureau of Environmental Services.

Along with wages, health care insurance is a critical issue in the talks.

Martinez said city employees are paid 7 percent less than other municipal workers and still the city is demanding "huge concessions" from its employees for health insurance.

"It is unconscionable that the city is demanding that city workers pay more and more when there are millions of dollars in the health care reserve fund, especially in light of huge expenditures for ballparks and esplanades at $400 per square inch," Martinez said. "One inch of the Esplanade can pay for the health care needs of two families."

The two sides met with a mediator Aug. 13 trying "to move to closure," Martinez said, when the city's offer suddenly "evaporated." Martinez told the Northwest Labor Press that the city's bargaining team wouldn't negotiate any further until they took what was on the table back to city commissioners on Thursday, (Aug. 16). That meeting never happened because the city cancelled. Later that day DCTU officials declared impasse.

Strike vote meetings are currently scheduled at bureaus throughout the city.

The City Council called a special executive session Tuesday, Aug. 21, to discuss the status of negotiations. The outcome of that meeting was not available at presstime.

"I have no predictions as to what will happen," Martinez said Aug. 20.

What Martinez does know is that city employees are united and the DCTU is moving forward as planned. Pending the outcome of the special executive session, both sides presented their last and final offers to the mediator Thursday, Aug. 23.

The DCTU also is planning a "Thousand Person March" through downtown Portland Wednesday, Aug. 29. "Right now it looks like it will be a lot more than a thousand people," said Jim Hester, an AFSCME member who is handling media relations.

The march will begin at 4 p.m. on the east side of the Hawthorne Bridge, pass City Hall at 1221 SW Fourth, and end at Terry Schrunk Plaza.

The DCTU has staged several unity rallies during the negotiations. In January, an estimated 800 persons rallied in front of City Hall to demand speedy negotiations and in July, 300 persons attended a "Porkland Tour" that showed the expensive esplanade, renovated baseball stadium and new trolley line.

August 24, 2001 issue

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