Multnomah County and its largest union have just a few items remaining to negotiate in bargaining over a new contract to replace the one that expired June 30.
American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 88 represents about 2,900 County employees. Three years ago, the union agreed to a 1.2 percent cost-of-living increase, followed by 0 percent in the second year; and 3.3 percent the third year. And that was after members voluntarily gave up a bargained-for 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase and a 3 percent step increase in 2008 — in order to preserve county jobs and services at the depth of the recession. So this time, the union proposed catch-up raises of 1 percent or even 0.5 percent over inflation. But the county negotiating team, led by labor relations director Steve Herron, said no to that.
Still, Local 88 president Deirdre Mahoney-Clark said bargaining has been respectful and productive.
Management backed off a proposal to allow the county to offer health benefits through a state-wide public employee insurance plan instead of the current self-insured arrangement. Mahoney-Clark said union members value the existing set-up, in which member representatives are part of the team that bargains benefits with providers like Kaiser and Moda. In recent years, the team has found enough savings to keep premium increases low or nonexistent while preserving benefits.
The union bargaining team is still waiting to hear whether the County will agree to its Oct. 1 proposal of a $15 minimum wage for the County’s lowest paid employees, to be phased in over three years. Mahoney-Clark says about 160 Local 88 members currently make below $15 an hour, including library pages, food service workers, animal care aides, and bridge operators. Some members earn so little that they are eligible for food stamps and other public assistance.
“This is a fight for justice, and the time is right,” said Oregon AFSCME executive director Ken Allen at an Oct. 28 union rally outside County headquarters. “The County budget is in the best shape it’s been in six years.”
Mahoney-Clark said she expected the two sides to reach a tentative contract agreement at the negotiations scheduled for Nov. 5.