A week after the City of Portland surprised the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) by declaring impasse in bargaining, union leaders agreed to submit a modified City proposal for a new four-year contract to a vote of members.
The two sides had been negotiating a new union contract for 1,600 City workers since February 2013, but had not met formally since a Nov. 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.
DCTU represents 1,600 City workers in water, roads, sewer, parks, and other bureaus. They are members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 189, Laborers Local 483, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48, Machinists District W24, Operating Engineers Local 701, Plumbers and Fitters Local 290, and Painters and Allied Trades District Council 5. Their previous contract expired June 30, 2013.
That contract has for decades had a clause known as Article 6, which says, “work which is performed by bargaining unit employees shall not be contracted out until the City indicates that the contracting out will result in reduced costs.” 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 initially sought to eliminate it.
The City declared impasse on Jan. 6, and five days later, revised its proposal on contracting out. The new City proposal, part of the contract offer members will vote on, says “the City reserves the right to have the work performed by third parties where there is a cost savings; increased efficiencies; an emergency; a statutory requirement; extreme risk; a lack of proper equipment, materials, or skills; Capital Improvement Projects; work that is covered by a warrantee; work that is proprietary; urgent work; limited work; and work that occurs during a peak load.” Each of those terms is defined.
Wheaton said the City proposal on contracting out would be easier for City managers to comply with than the current contract language.
The proposed contract also contains across-the-board raises: 0.9 percent retroactive to Aug. 29, 2013, followed by three annual raises equal to the increase in the Consumer Price Index each July 1, with a minimum of 1 percent and a maximum of 5 percent.
The DCTU will hold a forum at Benson High School Jan. 23 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. for members to discuss the contract offer and next steps. Each union will conduct a ratification vote in the coming weeks. If a majority of DCTU members approve the contract, it will go to City Council for ratification.