News briefs

DCTU reaches contract extension deal with Portland

At presstime, the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) announced a tentative two-year contract extension with the City of Portland.

The DCTU is a coalition of eight locals representing approximately 1,900 city employees at the Water Bureau, Maintenance Bureau, Police Bureau, Planning and Support Division, Printing and Distribution, and the Bureau of Environmental Services. The largest unit is Portland and Metropolitan Employees Local 189, an affiliate of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

The employees’ current contract expires June 30, 2004, so the new agreement will take the two sides through mid-2006. The extension is subject to ratification by the union members. Voting will be held the week of Dec. 9.

Rick Henson, chief negotiator for the DCTU and staff representative for AFSCME Local 189, said the contract extension is the result of an ongoing process to rehabilitate the working relationship between the city and the unions following acrimonious bargaining two years ago that ended only after a brief, four-hour strike.

“These were formal, but expedited, negotiations over about a six-week period,” said Henson. “Included was an opportunity at the end for the DCTU to sit down with the mayor and the city council for two hours and have some face-to-face discussion about what issues were unresolved. That meeting was built into the process. The mayor and council then met with the city’s bargaining team, and subsequently, on Dec. 1, we were able to hammer out this agreement.”

Highlights of the agreement include:

• Continuation of the current cost-of-living adjustment formula based on the Portland Consumer Price Index. Employees will receive an annual COLA of between 2 and 5 percent, relative to the CPI.

• Continuation of the current language on maintaining health insurance benefits, which was a major sticking point in the previous negotiations.

• Modified contract language regarding qualification for benefits. Under the agreement, employees who earn any paid time for a given month will qualify retroactively for benefits for that month. Henson says this agreement benefits new hires and employees out on “unusual” leaves of absence.

• Major changes to the contract grievance process. Henson said the agreement shortens grievance timelines and, more importantly, shifts the focus from simply being a “paper process” to early face-to-face meetings in an effort to resolve disputes.

Henson noted the two sides agreed to ongoing classification and compensation discussion and bargaining for inspectors and plan examiners, parking enforcement personnel and storekeepers. Those negotiations are to be concluded by June 30, 2004.

The eight members of the DCTU include Local 189, Machinists Lodge 1005, Electrical Workers Local 48, Laborers Local 483, Plumbers and Fitters Local 290, Operating Engineers Local 701 and Painters District 55.

One-day strike at Powell’s Books

Workers at all branches of Powell’s Books chose the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, for their second one-day strike in three weeks time. Negotiations for their second union contract are bogged down over the company’s proposal, in which increased health care payments would more than eat up any raises workers would get. So the workers, who formed Local 5 of International Longshore and Warehouse Union when they unionized three years ago, chose Nov. 28 to strike in protest over alleged labor law violations. The union contends in filings with the National Labor Relations Board that the company has been singling out union leaders for discipline for using company e-mail for union purposes. Strikers are asking supporters to call owner Michael Powell at 503-228-4651 x227 and tell him to respect workers rights.

AFSCME pickets Coos County Courthouse

For several weeks now, members of AFSCME Local 2936 employed at Coos County Courthouse Annex in North Bend have devoted their Wednesday lunch hour to informational picketing, asking for public support in their current contract negotiations with the county. Some 167 employees have rejected several offers from the county, and they talk openly of a possible strike in early 2004. The biggest issue is health care. Coos County wants the local to accept what amounts to a 34 percent cut in benefits. The county isn’t claiming it can’t pay, union leaders said. Instead, county negotiators insist they need to bank extra money for possible future needs — a Public Employees Retirement System settlement is one issue the county often cites, for example. The current contract expired in July. Union negotiators rejected a county proposal during mediation on Nov. 13; another mediation session will be scheduled soon.

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