October 16, 2009 Volume 110 Number 20

Portland City Council gets earful from AFSCME

Leaders of the City of Portland’s largest union blasted city managers and Portland City Council at a lunchtime rally Sept. 30 outside City Hall.

American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 189 represents nearly 1,100 city workers. Officers of the union say the Bureau of Human Resources and the city attorney's office are obstructing labor-management agreements worked out by city managers and the union, and blame City Council members for not getting involved.

“We used to be able to work things out,” AFSCME staff rep James Hester told the Labor Press. “Now they’re not even resolving simple disputes.”

Local 189 has seven pending unfair labor practice charges being looked into by the Oregon Employment Relations Board — each of them an allegation that the city is violating Oregon’s Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act. In one of the charges, the union alleges that managers are retaliating against and coercing union officers and union members in the Portland Police Bureau and Portland Water Bureau.

Meanwhile, at the Bureau of Development Services, about 130 workers have been laid off, including 57 members of the City of Portland Professional Employees Association. COPPEA is an independent union rep- resenting some 700 workers.

The layoffs have generated numerous complaints. AFSCME members said frontline employees are being cut in disproportionate numbers, while managers are keeping their jobs. Some workers were told they would be laid off and then weren’t, while others didn’t find out they would be laid off until almost the day before.

The cuts stem from a drop in building permit fees. AFSCME says every effort by union employees at BDS to be involved in decision-making around the cuts was preempted and rebuffed by management.

City Commissioner Randy Leonard, a former president of Portland Fire Fighters Local 43, had a different account. Leonard said he took measures to ameliorate the layoffs. He hired a laid-off AFSCME member to answer phones in his office, and placed others in jobs he created in the Water and Fire bureaus, and in the Bureau of Environmental Services. And he said he took his own two-week unpaid furlough, directed managers to do the same, and dedicated that the savings go to BDS.

Leonard faulted the union for not taking a proposal to BDS members to vote on a furlough — which he said would have generated enough savings to avoid nine layoffs.

Local 189 President Carol Stahlke said the union agreed to a two-week furlough, but negotiations stalled over how the furlough days would be taken. Stahlke said the union’s relationship with Leonard, normally considered a pro-union stalwart, has frayed since the beginning of summer.

AFSCME endorsed Mayor Sam Adams, and Commissioners Nick Fish, Amanda Fritz and Leonard in last year’s general election.

Local 189’s current four-year contract runs through June 2010.

Stahlke said about 60 of the laid off BDS employees are represented by Local 189 members. To help them access benefits and weather the transition, Laborers Community Services Agency has hired laid-off BDS worker Pat Philpott as a “peer advocate.”

Philpott is also a member of Communications Workers of America Local 7901 and has chaired the Allied Printing Trades Council. In the mid-1990s he worked at the Northwest Labor Press.

Philpott’s first day as a peer advocate was Oct 8. He can be reached at 503 539-7677 or by e-mail at PDXpeer [AT] gmail.com.

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