After DCTU says no to privatization, City of Portland declares impasse

City of Portland chief labor negotiator Julia Getchell surprised the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) on Jan. 6 when she filed a formal declaration of impasse in bargaining. The two sides had been meeting since February 2013 to negotiate a new union contract for 1,600 City workers, but hadn’t met since a November 26 session with a mediator. In December, DCTU chief negotiator Rob Wheaton and DCTU president Cherry Harris approached City HR director Anna Kanwit informally to see if they could break the logjam and work out a deal. But DCTU — a seven-union coalition of unions that bargain jointly with the City — balked at the City’s insistence on removing obstacles to outsourcing members’ work.

Why do they need the damn language changed? We have language there to protect taxpayers and to protect against stupid public contracts. Someone in the City wants to eliminate that — at the same time they assure us nobody wants to contract out.” — ” Oregon AFSCME executive director Ken Allen

By declaring impasse, the City basically is saying negotiations failed to produce agreement, and thus it’s time to move on to the next steps. In accord with the Oregon law that governs public sector collective bargaining, the two sides will submit “final” offers a week later on Jan. 13. That begins a 30-day “cooling off” period that ends Feb. 12, at which point management could choose to impose its terms without the consent of workers, and workers could choose to strike.

“Just because they’ve declared impasse doesn’t mean they’re going to implement,” said Wheaton, the DCTU negotiator, “and it doesn’t mean we’re going to go on strike. But it’s certainly taking one big step closer to it. We’re trying to avoid that as much as possible, but it appears the City is pushing us that direction.”

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 represents 1,600 City workers in water, roads, sewer, parks, and other bureaus. They are members of AFSCME Local 189, Laborers Local 483, IBEW Local 48, Machinists District Lodge 24, Operating Engineers Local 701, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 290, and Painters and Allied Trades District Council 5. Their previous contract expired June 30, 2013, but its terms remain in effect for now.

That contract has a clause dating back decades which says the City can’t outsource work done by union members unless it shows that doing so will save taxpayer money, and those money savings can’t come from slashing worker wages and benefits. The City was twice caught violating that requirement in recent years, and now seeks to eliminate it.

On Dec. 16, Kanwit sent a letter to all DCTU members giving her spin on the City’s contracting out proposal. The City’s offer contains language saying the City “does not intend to privatize its workforce,” Kanwit wrote. “This statement is not in the current contract and shows City Council’s intent to retain a City workforce.”

“Then why do they need the damn language changed?” Oregon AFSCME executive director Ken Allen asked the Labor Press. “We have language there to protect taxpayers and to protect against stupid public contracts. Someone in the City wants to eliminate that — at the same time they assure us nobody wants to contract out.”

On its web site, DCTU is calling on members to share their experiences with contracted out work, and inviting them to contribute examples of contractor waste, fraud, or abuse. It’s also planning a mass meeting for members to take place Jan. 23 at a location to be announced.

“DCTU hopes to avoid a strike,” said DCTU spokesperson Megan Hise, “but we’ll need the support of the community to put pressure on City Council — to protect this language that’s so important to city workers, and to the taxpayers.”

DCTU is calling on members and the public to ask City Council to “take a stand for public services and good jobs, and send HR back to bargaining table.”

  • Commissioner Nick Fish:  (503)823-3589  nick@portlandoregon.gov
  • Commissioner Amanda Fritz:  (503)823-3008   amanda@portlandoregon.gov
  • Mayor Charlie Hales:  (503)823-4120  mayorcharliehales@portlandoregon.gov
  • Commissioner Steve Novick:(503) 823-4682  novick@portlandoregon.gov
  • Commissioner Dan Saltzman:(503) 823-4151  dan@portlandoregon.gov

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