Strike on horizon at City of Portland

Both union and management appear to be preparing for a strike at the City of Portland, which could start in November. The seven-union 1,600-worker coalition known as the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) has tentatively scheduled a “ready to walk” rally for 4:30 p.m. Nov. 6, at a location to be determined. And on Sept. 26, City of Portland chief negotiator Julia Getchell told DCTU bargaining chair Rob Wheaton that she instructed City management to place all vacation requests on hold for November, December, and January — based on concern over a potential DCTU strike. That’s according to an unfair labor practice charge the DCTU filed Oct. 2 with the Oregon Employment Relations Board.

AFSCME Local 189 members Bruce Bullick and Kevin Getner rally outside Portland City Hall Oct. 2 prior to a City Council meeting.
AFSCME Local 189 members Bruce Bullick and Kevin Getner rally outside Portland City Hall Oct. 2 prior to a City Council meeting.

DCTU says the vacation hold was illegal, and argues that it’s part of a broader pattern by the City of refusal to abide by Oregon’s Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act.

In the charge, DCTU says the City of Portland has refused to bargain in good faith. When the two sides began negotiating a new contract Feb. 13, the City proposed rollbacks in virtually every area of the contract. Despite five months of weekly meetings and four sessions with a state-appointed mediator, the two sides have reached agreement on only two of 38 articles: the preamble and the clause covering health insurance. DCTU says the City failed to meaningfully negotiate during the 150-day period of contract bargaining mandated by law, and even refused to bargain over its own proposals. Further, DCTU says, the City has said that its final offer will be significantly worse than its final mediation proposal.

DCTU negotiators object most strongly to two items: A proposal to eliminate protections against contracting out union members’ work, and a proposed 0.9 percent cost-of-living increase, which the City has insisted won’t be retroactive to the June 30 expiration of the previous contract, as has previously been the custom.

DCTU includes AFSCME Local 189, Laborers Local 483, Operating Engineers Local 701, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48, Machinists District Lodge 24, Painters District Council 5, and Plumbers Local 290. They maintain water and sewer systems and parks and roads, and perform clerical functions in Police and other bureaus.

Oct. 2, the DCTU took its unhappiness directly to a meeting of City Council. Painters Local 10 member Mike Keebaugh and Laborers Local 483 member Sam Sachs addressed City Council during time set aside for public comment, to cheers from scores of city workers in the gallery. [Video of the council session is here, with unionists appearing at 10:43] DCTU plans to return to City Council at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 30, when five more members will speak.


Portland 911 dispatchers vote down agreement

Meanwhile, for the first time in at least 20 years, Portland’s 911 dispatchers rejected a tentative agreement with the City by nearly a two-to-one margin. The contract vote was held Oct. 5.

AFSCME Local 189-2 represents employees at the City’s Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC). The 93 employees in the bargaining unit answer all 911 and non-emergency calls for the city police and fire bureaus, as well as calls for Multnomah County. Under contract with the city, 911 and emergency dispatching services are provided to the police departments of Gresham, Troutdale, and Fairview, as well as the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office. They also handle calls for the Gresham, Corbett, and Sauvie Island fire departments, and dispatch American Medical Response ambulances contracted to Multnomah County Emergency Medical Services.

The dispatchers are part of the DCTU, but  their contract and bargaining are separate because they cannot strike. The key issues they are facing are forced overtime and premium pay for backup training coaches.

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