Laborers get an audience with City authorities

Members of Laborers Local 483 showed up en masse at City Hall Nov. 16, filling Portland City Council’s ground-floor chamber for the public comment period before the council’s regular business. Most had union t-shirts and hats, and carried signs that said, “Mr. Mayor, this is an emergency.”

“You’re welcome to have signs as long as you keep them down by your chest, at the request of folks providing security here,” said Mayor Sam Adams. “There’s no hooting. There’s no hollering.”

Local 483 staff representative Erica Askin was the first of three to speak for the union, which represents city employees in several bureaus,  and read a statement that was approved the previous evening by the union’s general membership: “We are the 900-member public employee union who maintain your infrastructure, including your gold-medal parks … your clean roads and bridges, your safe water, and the vibrant community centers where your children learn and play. We support the public through our daily labor.”

Askin said Mayor Sam Adams is proposing a $16.2 million cut in infrastructure spending in the city Bureau of Transportation, which could lead to 100 layoffs. That’s in addition to Parks and Recreation, where up to 49 layoffs are projected, Askin said.

“We … ask you to consider how massive layoffs will increase wealth inequality and depress labor standards in a community already struggling with a lack of family-wage jobs.”

The statement also took aim at the City’s habit of hiring of non-union contractors and temporary and seasonal employees.

Next, maintenance worker Farrell Richartz from the street cleaning department described the work he and fellow union members do — cleaning up leaves, preventing flooding, and acting as first responders during snow and ice events. Cuts to those services, Richartz said, would constitute an emergency.

Last up for the union was Father Bob Krueger of St. Francis Catholic parish, who spoke against the continued use of prisoner labor in the parks.

Of the five elected officials, three responded.

“This is not the right forum to have a discussion about inmate labor,” said Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish.

City Commissioner Nick Fish — who heads the Parks Bureau — thanked members for the work they did over the previous few days cleaning up Chapman and Lownsdale parks. [Mayor Adams ordered police to forcibly remove the Occupy Portland encampment Nov. 13. Occupy supporters had begun cleanup, but after the eviction, fences were then installed around the entire two-block area, guarded by police 24-hours-a-day, which prevented occupiers from fulfilling their promise to clean up.]

“This is not the right forum to have a discussion about inmate labor,” Fish said, addressing Krueger. “We as a Council would not permit any inmate labor to displace an existing bargaining unit job.”

Rather, Fish said, inmates supplement the city’s work force, and get a job skill and time off their sentence for doing so. Fish added that he wants to find ways to transition them into gainful employment with the City of Portland.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz wanted to add that the number of “contract” employees in an unspecified bureau of Fish’s had declined from over 100 to under 40 over the last two years. Fritz linked that to the city’s commitment to family wage jobs.

Adams kept his response succinct: “Thanks for your work every day, and be careful out there.”

1 Comment

  1. Without the men and women who work at B.E.S, Maintenance Bureau, Water Bureau, and Portland Parks and Recreation. The city would not and could not function as it does now.
    With these massive cuts, who would clean and help the people of our community enjoy our beautiful parks, which have won national awards. Would we have won those awards without the hard work and dedication, of those employees, probably not.
    With these massive cuts who would run the programs at all the community centers, so people of the community have something to do on a rainy day. Without these programs they would sit at home and watch TV, not enjoying their community.
    With these massive cuts the good reliable drinking water would not be as reliable. Citizens and business owners rely and expect that every time they run their faucet that good reliable drinking water flows out, would this continue if the men and women at the Water Bureau got laid off, probably not.
    With these massive cuts who would fix the pot holes in the street, there would be no one on the other end of the pothole hotline. Who would grind and repave the badly beaten streets, sweep the streets to make it safe for pedestrians and cyclist. There would be leaves and glass and all kinds of garbage in the street’s making it unsafe for everyone. Who would paint the lines on the street’s to make them safer in the rain so you can see where the lanes merge or the stop lines for the stop lights, and the cross walk lines. Without the men and women of the Maintenance Bureau would the streets be safe to drive, walk, or bike probably not.
    With these massive cuts who would respond in the middle of the night or holidays, when it snows or the roads get icy. This is a dangerous situation for the employees, to make it safe for the citizens. Though, this has become normal for us to disrupt our holiday gatherings and our sleep schedule to make the roads as safe as we can while maintaining our own safety. Portland Police and Fire Bureau also rely on us to help them get to where they need to go in an emergency during inclement weather. We provide this service proudly, maintaining Portland is a matter of pride. With these cuts that are imposed on us, will we be able to provide that level of service, probably not.
    With these massive cuts who would come in, in the middle of the night to respond to a sewer back up. I would not like sewage in my house. We respond to these situations all the time. The collection system is a complex and complicated maze of sewer pipes varying in all different sizes. Who knows this system like we built it? We do the, men and women who maintain it, and create healthy standard of living for the citizens of Portland and Mother Nature.
    The City of Portland has always been a leader in innovation, good working practices and providing a level of service in all neighborhoods. We need city council to sit down put their heads together and be leaders in this crisis, not retreat.

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