Parry Center strike ends

After nearly two months on strike against a hard-line anti-union stance by Trillium Family Services management, workers at Portland’s Parry Center for Children were jubilant Jan. 26 at the news they’d be going back to work.

The settlement, which Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 termed a “huge victory,” included raises in each year of the three-year deal and continuation of union security for most workers at Parry Center.

Parry Center, a 24-hour psychiatric residential treatment facility for children, is one of three sites managed by Trillium, a non-profit that gets 90 percent of its revenue from government sources. The center’s child specialists are required to have college degrees.

Parry Center paid most workers a wage that topped out at $9.28 an hour. Under the new contract, ratified by workers in a Jan. 31 vote, the union won an across the board raise of 20 cents an hour in the first year, a cost-of-living increase in the second, and a guarantee of at least 10 cents an hour increase in the third year (more if health care costs increase less than expected).

As for the second main issue of the strike — union security — the two sides reached a compromise. About 80 strikers, and the 28 workers hired to permanently replace them, will pay mandatory dues to support the union, as requested by the majority of workers in the unit. But about 25 workers who crossed the picket line at the beginning of the strike will be able to individually opt out of the dues requirement if they choose.

Under the settlement, the replacement workers will continue to work at Parry Center. The strikers will return to work in two waves — Feb. 7 and 14 — and are promised the same number of hours they had before the strike within a month and the same shifts they had before within two months.

As part of the agreement, the union agreed to drop the unfair labor practice charges it filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

The wage and union security terms were a departure for Trillium management, which gave every indication of wanting to bust the union, as it had at two other locations – Waverly Childrens Home in Portland and Children’s Farm Home in Corvallis. Trillium’s call for a wage freeze and an open shop drove workers to strike Nov. 29, after which Trillium told strikers they would not be offered their jobs back.

Trillium’s change in position appeared to be a response to intervention by government officials, who may have used a carrot-and-stick approach. Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski delayed renewal of a state contract to care for severely traumatized children after assigning former state legislator Brian Johnston as a fact-finder. And Department of Human Services director Gary Weeks announced on the same day as the settlement that the State Hospital in Salem would close its adolescent treatment ward and contract with Trillium to create a new adolescent treatment facility in Portland.

Trillium also received strongly worded letters from the Multnomah County Commission and from the Portland City Council (except Commissioner Dan Saltzman). And State Treasurer Randall Edwards, who is on the Trillium Board of Directors, reportedly wrote letters to other board members seeking resolution to the strike.

Edwards was the only board member willing to meet with the union.

The refusal of other board members to meet prompted energetic union protests outside their places of work, including a Jan. 21 demonstration that shut down the lobby of the 1000 SW Broadway. That protest concluded with the arrest of 13 strikers and supporters who sat down in front of the 17th floor offices of board member Peter Northrup.

“We took a big risk in going out on strike,” said bargaining committee member Colleen Sullivan. “But on the picket line we got to know each other and bonded like never before.”

Sullivan predicted that she and other strikers — experienced handlers of high-conflict situations with children — won’t let their personal sentiments interfere with their ability to work alongside the replacement workers.

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