August 7, 2009 Volume 110 Number 15

City of Portland unions demand to bargain over layoffs

The District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) filed a “demand to bargain” letter July 22 with the City of Portland and is preparing to file several unfair labor practice complaints over layoffs and reorganization process at the city’s Bureau of Development Services (BDS).

[As of press time, the city had not responded to the demand to bargain letter. Randy Leonard is the commissioner in charge of the bureau.]

In June, BDS announced that it would lay off half of its 300 employees by the end of the year. Approximately 43 people were let go July 31, with another 45 slated to be gone by Aug. 31.

BDS is the city’s building department in charge of construction permits and inspections. It is primarily a self-funded agency that relies on fees paid by developers and homeowners. Due to the severe downturn in the economy, the bureau has been operating at a $900,000 per month deficit and has spent down its reserves from $13 million to $4 million.

As layoffs began, issues were raised about the transfer of work between DCTU-represented members and the independent City of Portland Professional Employees Association (COPPEA), and over the use of supervisors, managers, and other non-represented employees doing the work of the laid-off union workforce.

AFSCME Local 189 is the largest local at the city and among the DCTU, which is an umbrella organization of locals. Unions that make up the DCTU include Electrical Workers Local 48, Machinists Lodge 1005, Operating Engineers Local 701, Laborers Local 483, Painters District Council 5, and Plumbers and Fitters Local 290.

COPPEA represents over 700 employees who work in professional and technical jobs for the city. It has raised concerns that BDS is not making proportionate staffing reductions in non-represented positions.

The DCTU contends that moving contractual work from one bargaining unit to another, or having non-represented workers doing the work of represented members is a subject of mandatory bargaining.

“At no time has the city and/or BDS management suggested the bureau would be reorganized in response to the layoffs,” said James Hester, a field representative of AFSCME Oregon Council 75 and spokesperson for the DCTU.

“The DCTU believed all along that the city would handle the downsizing in accordance with its collective bargaining agreement,” he said.

Hester said the city is obligated under the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) to provide written notification to unions outlining the specifics of any reorganization and to bargain over the impacts of that decision, including wages, hours and working conditions.

Hester said DCTU’s filing signifies the start of a 90-day bargaining process as outlined by PECBA. He pointed out that under PECBA, the bureau cannot implement and/or make any changes (including layoffs) until bargaining is complete. The DCTU has requested “any and all information relating to a BDS reorganization.”


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