Unions wary as Portland bargaining begins amid plans for cuts


Claire Houston, a wastewater treatment plant operator and member of Laborers Municipal Employees Local 483, takes part in the District Council of Trade Union’s “Save Our Services” rally Feb. 5.

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

Job security will be the top concern of workers in contract bargaining this year between the City of Portland and the coalition of unions known as the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU). In one of his first acts after taking office, Mayor Charlie Hales asked each city bureau to prepare scenarios for a 10 percent budget cut. That has union members worried for their jobs.

Hales has said he wants to get back to basics, focusing on core services and cutting out extras. If he follows through, union members who provide the frontline services may have little to fear. But it’s bureau managers who will create the budgets, and already, union members are learning of proposed cuts.

Bargaining team member Brooke Brown, for example, learned that her job fingerprinting arrestees as an identification technician in the Portland Police Bureau’s forensic evidence division is on the chopping block. Brown is an officer of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 189, the largest of the seven unions in the DCTU. The others are Laborers Local 483, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48, Machinists Lodge 1005, Operating Engineers Local 701, Painters Local 10, and Plumbers and Fitters Local 290. Altogether, the DCTU represents about 1,600 City workers, down 200 from six years ago. DCTU workers maintain much of the city’s infrastructure, including parks, streets, and water and sewer systems. [Other unions — representing fire fighters, police officers, and professional and technical employees — bargain separately.]

“Our priority,” said DCTU bargaining team member Michael Darfler, “is to preserve staffing levels, to protect the services citizens have come to expect.” Darfler, an electronic technician at Portland’s 911 call center, is a member of IBEW Local 48.

Protecting services was the theme of the DCTU’s contract kickoff event Feb. 5, dubbed the “Save Our Services” rally. Members and leaders of DCTU unions gathered at noon in a park near city hall in a show of unity.

“Our message is you need to cut managers, and stop contracting out, before you come to us asking for cuts,” said Oregon AFSCME executive director Ken Allen.

The union rally was scheduled for the first day of bargaining, but the City cancelled the first two sessions. Bargaining is now set to begin Feb. 19. The DCTU’s current three-year contract expires June 30.


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