Members of the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) voted down a tentative contract agreement with the City of Portland 462 to 635. Ballots were counted Feb. 10, three days later than scheduled, due to a snow storm that shut down the city and put many DCTU members to work clearing streets of snow and repairing water mains.
DCTU is a coalition of seven unions that represent nearly 1,600 city workers. The largest units are members of AFSCME Local 189 and Laborers Local 483. Others are Machinists District Lodge 24, Operating Engineers Local 701, Painters and Allied Trades District Council 5, Plumbers and Fitters Local 290, and IBEW Local 48.
Contentious bargaining had been ongoing for nearly a year when a tentative four-year deal was reached in January — just as union representatives and city managers prepared to submit their final offers. Members of the bargaining team recommended ratification, saying it was the best deal likely to be achieved without a strike. But members who opposed its terms mounted a grassroots effort to get coworkers to vote no. The rejected deal would have provided modest cost-of-living increases and continued health insurance and retirement benefits, but it also would have made it easier to contract out members’ work, and it would have changed rules on accruing comp time — a change that drew fire from many members, particularly in maintenance and repair jobs.
With each union voting separately, majorities in four of the seven rejected the deal. After the vote, City HR manager Julia Getchell told DCTU chief negotiator Rob Wheaton in a text message that the City would move to declare impasse a second time, but that had not yet happened as of press time.
Local 483 organizer Erica Askin, sworn in as interim business manager Feb. 18, said it’s still possible the two sides could reopen negotiations.
If the City does declare impasse, that would trigger a seven-day timeline for the two sides to exchange final offers. DCTU members would then have an opportunity to vote on the City’s final offer, but Local 189 President Mark Gipson said the next contract vote would likely be paired with a vote on whether to authorize a strike.
Gipson said the City would have three options in putting together a final offer.
“If they’re interested in driving a work stoppage,” Gipson said, “all they have to do is put together an offer worse than the tentative agreement.”
A second option would be for the City to submit a final offer identical to the one members rejected. It’s possible that could pass on a second vote, if members understood that rejecting the deal would mean a strike.
“[The rejected agreement] was far from a great offer,” Gipson said. “The question is, ‘Is it bad enough to strike over?’”
The smart move, Gipson said, would be a third option — an improved offer that would win support from some who voted “no” last time.