City Attorney seeks to keep Portland’s $11-an-hour park rangers from joining union

NO UNION FOR YOU: The Portland City Attorney's office, in legal arguments filed May 13, says City of Portland park rangers like Nathan Hepp (left) and Vicente Harrison shouldn't be added to Laborers Local 483 because they are too unlike other members.
NO UNION FOR YOU: The Portland City Attorney’s office, in legal arguments filed May 13, says City of Portland park rangers like Nathan Hepp (left) and Vicente Harrison shouldn’t be added to Laborers Local 483 because they are too unlike other members. Photo by Farrell Richartz, courtesy of Laborers Local 483

In April — after all 15 park rangers at the City of Portland signed cards seeking to join Laborers Local 483 — a spokesperson for Mayor Charlie Hales told the Labor Press that the City favors its employees’ right to join a union, adding, “We look forward to the park rangers being part of the Laborers union.”

But that generous sentiment was contradicted just weeks later by the City attorney’s office, which on May 13 filed six pages of legal arguments with the Oregon Employment Relations Board as to why the rangers shouldn’t be added to the multi-union bargaining unit known as the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU).

In March, rangers met as a group with Mayor Hales to explain their job and why they want a union: Though they’re uniformed “ambassadors” of the City who patrol parks in pairs to enforce City regulations, 11 of the 15 rangers make $11 an hour, have no benefits, and get terminated after working 1,400 hours because the City classifies them as “temps.” The hope was that by unionizing, they could bargain their way into permanent jobs with benefits.

But in legal objections filed 30 minutes before the deadline, Deputy City Attorney Matthew Farley argues that because they aren’t permanent jobs with benefits, they don’t belong in the DCTU. The 11 temps have a “tenuous employment relationship with the City,” without “regularity and continuity in their work schedules,” in positions that are “non-budgeted.” They have no reasonable expectation of permanent employment. And they’re not eligible for health insurance, paid vacation, service credits, have no appeal rights, and serve at-will. For all these reasons, the argument goes, they’re unlike existing union members in the DCTU, and thus don’t belong in the DCTU.

But there’s more. The rangers are security/policing personnel, not laborers, so they don’t belong in the Laborers. No other Local 483 members do security or investigations. Local 483 is wrongly “seeking to lump security/policing personnel with manual laborers.” Security/policing personnel, got it? Not laborers.

Well, except, actually, the City further argues, the 11 temp rangers are members of the “Community Service Aid” [sic] classification, “a classification of casual employees who work in multiple bureaus across the City.” So they’re not the same as other workers in the Parks Bureau, who are represented by the Laborers. Oh, except for, one of the rangers designs fliers, so he’s a “Community Outreach and Information Assistant,” which is a city-wide non-represented classification.

“Community Service Aide? I’ve never heard that term in all my time as a park ranger,” said ranger Sam Sachs, one of the four permanents. “Are they saying our park rangers can work in other bureaus?”

Lastly, the City attorney argues: AFSCME Local 189 has attempted to organize the rangers, and has a pending grievance claiming that its other members have the right to perform certain specific rangers duties. The City argues that the rangers are more like the “Water Security Specialists” in the AFSCME-represented Water Bureau and the “Parking Technicians,” in the AFSCME-represented Parking Enforcement office, than they are like their fellow Laborers-represented Parks Bureau employees.

“We did speak to those park rangers,” says Rob Wheaton, business representative for AFSCME Local 189. “But at the time they seemed more interested in joining the Laborers. As far as I’m concerned, it’s up to the employees. We give zero weight to what union the City thinks they should be in.”

As far as the grievance mentioned by the City, it relates to a proposal that some rangers be hired in Washington Park and made responsible for writing parking tickets at metered spaces there. AFSCME thinks the work should go to its members in parking enforcement. But as of now the rangers don’t even do that work.

“We kind of expected they’d object,” says Local 483 Business Manager Richard Beetle. “Personally, I think this is all about temporary employment. They want to keep them in temporary status and not have to worry about unions.”

An administrative law judge is expected to hold a hearing on the City’s objections by June 3.

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