City of Portland workers voting on tentative contract agreement

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

After nearly a year of contentious negotiations, about 1,300 City of Portland workers had a chance to vote on a new union contract this week and last. They are members of the seven-union coalition known as the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU). DCTU represents 1,583 City workers, but a little over 300 of those are “fair share” employees who chose not to join the union and therefore don’t get to vote on the contract.

The tentative four-year deal was reached just as DCTU representatives and city managers prepared to submit their final offers to the state Employment Relations Board.

If ratified, the agreement would cover the period from July 1, 2013 (when the previous contract expired) through June 30, 2017. It provides for wage increases of 0.9 percent retroactive to Aug. 29, followed by annual increases equal to the rise in the Consumer Price Index each July 1 (with a minimum of 1 percent and a maximum of 5 percent).

Retirement and health insurance are unchanged in the tentative agreement. But the agreement completely rewrites a contract article that has limited the City’s ability to contract out members’ work, and it changes rules on “comp time.” Those two items came under fire at a rowdy contract forum Jan. 23 in the Benson High School auditorium. Most of the roughly 80 members who turned out were unhappy with what they characterized as concessions in the proposed contract.

The new contracting out clause is less restrictive to the City. The old language said the City may not contract out work done by bargaining unit members unless it shows that doing so will save money, and the savings can’t come from lower wages and benefits. The new language says the City can contract out for a variety of specified reasons, but that no employee will lose employment because of contracting out.

Comp time, meanwhile, is a feature of the union contract that is highly prized by certain categories of City workers. The current contract gives workers options when they work overtime. For each hour of overtime they work, they can be paid time-and-a-half, or they can get 1.5 hours of compensatory (comp) time — paid time off that they can use later, similar to vacation time. And under the current contract, there’s no limit to the amount of comp time workers can use, except that they can only accrue up to 80 hours of comp time at any given time. Unused comp time can be cashed out at the end of the fiscal year or carried over to the next year.

By contrast, the contract up for ratification would impose a limit of 120 hours of comp time that could be taken in a year, starting calendar year 2015. At the end of the year, employees could retain any comp time they accrued, but would still only be able to use 120 hours in a year. Meanwhile, employees who agree to be on “standby” (off hours that they’re available to work within 30 minutes in the event of an emergency) would have a separate comp time bank of up to 80 hours at a time for any hours they are called in to work. The City estimated that 84 workers would have been affected if the 120-hour rule had been in place in 2012.

The agreement also contains a provision reacting to a proposed initiative aimed at the 2014 ballot. The proposed initiative would allow union-represented public employees who are not members of the union to refuse to share representation costs. Article 2 in the proposed DCTU agreement restricts employees from dropping their union membership except for a five-day period in March each year.

Members of the bargaining team recommended ratification, and said it was the best deal likely to be achieved without a strike. AFSCME Local 189 held votes at roughly 50 work sites around the City, while members of Laborers Local 483 voted by mail ballot.

Officials from all seven unions in the DCTU coalition will meet at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 7 to tabulate the results.

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