April 20, 2007 Volume 108 Number 8

AFSCME 189 suspends cooperation with Portland mayor

The City of Portland’s largest union temporarily suspended all labor-management committee work with Mayor Tom Potter after the Portland Police Bureau placed an officer of AFSCME Local 189 on administrative leave for refusing to answer questions related to union business.

The issue arose out of an Internal Affairs investigation in the Police Bureau. During that interrogation, desk clerk Angela Oswalt, a vice president and steward for Local 189, was threatened with discipline and termination if she didn’t answer questions related to confidential discussions she had with other union members.

Local 189 represents civilian employees at the Police Bureau.

Last year, Oswalt accused former Police Chief Derrick Foxworth of abuse of power and sexual misconduct, which led to Foxworth’s demotion. Oswalt, who had an ongoing affair with the police chief, later filed a lawsuit against the bureau that is still pending.

James Hester, a council representative for AFSCME Oregon Council 75, said that two of the top brass at Internal Affairs are close friends of Foxworth.

“I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that,” Hester told the NW Labor Press.

But this isn’t about what happened between Foxworth and Oswalt.

“This is an absolute deliberate attack to single out a steward and an officer of this union,” he said. AFSCME maintains that Oswalt has no obligation to answer questions about the union’s internal business or her private discussions with other union members.

The union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the City of Portland and the Police Bureau.

According to Hester, Oswalt, the union steward, was sought out by a colleague for advice regarding a work-related matter. Oswalt consulted with the union, and all agreed the employee should file a complaint with Internal Affairs.

“The next thing you know, Angela is being called in by Internal Affairs” wanting to know about her conversation with the co-worker and questions about her personal life, Hester said. “We told them that was privileged information.”

A second interview was held, at which time Oswalt answered the questions about her personal life, but refused to talk about her union business despite threats of disciplinary action if she refused.

The union filed the unfair labor practice complaint after that interview.

It was shortly after the second interview when Oswalt received a hand-delivered memo from Assistant Chief Lynnae Berg informing her that she was being investigated for three complaints of improper conduct. One of the complaints was for her conduct during the IA interview, another was about her handling of a citizen’s request for information, and another involved union- related matters.

At a third Internal Affairs interview on March 30, Hester said Oswalt answered all the questions except those involving union business. IA pressed for answers, so the union ended the conversation by leaving.

Oswalt was put on paid administrative leave on April 2.

“I am incredibly shocked by what they did,” Hester said.

On April 5, the union sent a letter to Potter announcing suspension of all labor-management committees under Potter’s control. Those include the Police Bureau, Office of Neighborhood Involvement, Office of Management & Finance, the Planning Bureau and the Revenue Bureau.

The letter to Potter said that the key to the labor-management process was that elected union officers and other member leaders needed to be free from threats and intimidation.

“We didn’t want to do this,” Hester said. “But their actions are totally unacceptable. We can’t allow it to happen.”

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