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.
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.”