Strike averted at City of Portland

SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE. Rob Wheaton, chief negotiator for the seven-union District Council of Trade Unions, signs a tentative agreement that if ratified, will be a new four-year union contract for City of Portland employees. The hand on the left belongs to his counterpart, Labor Relations director Julia Getchell.
SIGNING ON THE DOTTED LINE. Rob Wheaton, chief negotiator for the seven-union District Council of Trade Unions, signs a tentative agreement March 28 that if ratified, will be a new four-year union contract for 1,600 City of Portland employees. The hand on the left belongs to his counterpart, Labor Relations director Julia Getchell.

City of Portland and the seven-union 1,600-member District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) reached tentative agreement on a new four-year contract shortly after midnight March 28 — after 16 straight hours of mediated bargaining. DCTU leaders say they were prepared to issue a 10-day strike notice if the session had not produced a deal.

In an earlier March 11 mediation session, the two sides had worked out a compromise preserving members’ right to take “comp time,” but still were at odds over job security going into the March 28 session. The breakthrough was a compromise on a clause that limits the City’s ability to contract out. The City had proposed to basically gut that clause, known as Article 6, when it started bargaining last spring.  Article 6 said the City may not contract out members’ work unless it first demonstrated that doing so would save money, and that the savings wouldn’t come from lower wages and benefits. After much push-back from the DCTU, the City added a statement that it didn’t intend to privatize its workforce, but could contract out under a number of specific conditions. One of the conditions was if the City workers lacked the proper equipment or skills to do a job. But that prompted speculation among DCTU members that the City would let equipment fall into disrepair, or simply declare that workers lacked the right skill — in order to contract out their work.

In the end, the City added a specific commitment to maintain equipment and skills training.

“They’ve assured us they will continue to invest in proper equipment and skills as methods evolve,” said AFSCME Local 189 member Rob Martineau, a Water Bureau crew leader and member of the bargaining team.

The new Article 6 also says no employees will lose their jobs as a result of contracting out.

The tentative agreement would be retroactive to July 1, 2013 and would run through June 30, 2017.

Workers likely won’t be thrilled about the wage increases in the agreement, DCTU chief negotiator Rob Wheaton said, but city bargaining units in police, emergency communications, and recreation centers have already accepted the same offer — a 0.9 percent wage increase retroactive to Aug. 29, 2013, and increases equal to the increase in the Consumer Price Index in subsequent years (minimum 1 percent and maximum 5 percent.)

The tentative agreement now goes out to affiliated unions for ratification votes. DCTU members rejected a previous tentative agreement in February, and then overwhelmingly said “no” to an even worse “last best offer” from the City in mid-March. But Wheaton said he’s confident this tentative agreement will pass, since it answers most objections members had to the earlier versions.

DCTU bargaining team members were unified in supporting this agreement, whereas last time, the ratification process was complicated by the fact that Laborers Local 483 representatives on the bargaining team didn’t vote for the tentative agreement, yet felt constrained by the democratic nature of coalition work not to speak against it. Public sector bargaining team members are also obliged by state law to recommend passage if they sign a tentative agreement.

1 Comment

  1. Good. Once upon a time I sat in Brother Wheaton’s chair. Here again we see that a Union could be a cause or a movement and often is, but it MUST be what the name says it is: people standing united. And that’s not that easy. But it sure is powerful. Congratulations to the Sisters and the Brothers who make the DCTU a trade union!

    Samuel Gompers, first President and a founder of the American Federation of Labor, said once “The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.[“

    We don’t expect nor especially want our public agencies to produce a profit. But we rely on them being managed well enough so that they have the funds to provide steady employment and production of their goods and their services, good wages, decent benefits, efficient equipment, safe working conditions, and provisions for workers to upgrade their skills and perhaps obtain higher wages down the road.

    The Tentative Agreement appears to me well-crafted to protect Union employment while motivating management to provide the equipment, conditions, training opportunities, and so forth that City workers and the City and its citizens need.

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