Portland Mayor Charlie Hales spent an hour with the Executive Board of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC) July 8, where he opened the floor to questions.
Top among labor’s concerns is drawn-out negotiations between the City and the District Council of Trade Unions. Hales was asked who is directing negotiations for the City and why the City seems hell-bent on subcontracting out members’ jobs.
Hales responded that City Council directs negotiations, though “I pay some attention to it.” The first-term mayor said there is “no agenda on my part or of the City Council to erode the base of what your members do,” adding that he will look for ways “to get to yes” on a new agreement.
The previous contract for more than 1,600 workers represented by seven unions expired June 30.
Next, Hales was asked why he was challenging the legality of the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association. The 51-member union — comprised of lieutenants, captains, and commanders — has been in existence for 25 years. One of its past presidents is State Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha). In the past, the union has successfully challenged firings and demotions handed down by chiefs of police and previous mayors. Some of those reversals have caused huge public outcry.
Eliminating the union would make the commanding officers “at will” employees.
Hales said that in order to change the culture of the Portland Police Bureau, there needs to be a clearer chain of command. “Are they labor or are they management? We think they’re management,” Hales said. “The time to ask the question is before a new contract, and that time is now.”
The Oregon Employment Relations Board will make the final determination. “Once the ERB rules, we’re done, either way (the City won’t challenge it),” Hales said.
Other topics discussed included the demise of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC). Hales said he doesn’t have a Plan B, but wants to help put a Plan B together. He’s contacted the Oregon Department of Transportation and TriMet to look at transit projects that could be done on a smaller scale.
“I don’t think the answer is to do nothing,” he said. “Whatever is next, the City will play more of a leadership role,” he said, noting that the City “wasn’t as engaged as it should have been” with the CRC project.
Hales was asked about development of West Hayden Island following the death of the Columbia River Crossing.
“It’s a difficult equation,” he responded. “The easier question is: ‘should it be annexed into the City and be ready to be developed?’ And the answer is ‘yes.’ ”
The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission voted 7-3 on July 9 to endorse annexing the 800-acre island into the City. If the Portland City Council approves it, 300 acres of the property owned by the Port of Portland would be identified for future deep water marine terminal development that would create thousands of jobs. The remaining 500 acres would be set aside for open space.
Annexation and development is supported by the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council, the Oregon AFL-CIO, and NOLC.
Hales told the NOLC Executive Board that he sees better times ahead for the City. “Business taxes are rising and building permits are way up. I think we’ve hit bottom with this budget,” he said.
The mayor cut $20 million from this year’s City budget, which resulted in 25 layoffs. Another 120 vacant jobs at the City will go unfilled.