An arbitrator has ruled that the City of Portland violated its union contract with Laborers Local 483 when it regularly assigned the work of bargaining unit members to non-union employees who were classified as seasonal or casual.
The May 1 decision by arbitrator David W. Stiteler settles a dispute the union has been pursuing since as far back as 2002. It has to do with Portland Parks & Recreation, where the equivalent of 80 full-time union-represented employees work side-by-side with as many as 250 to 300 less-than-full-time “recreational support persons,” who are limited to 1,200 or 1,600 hours a year. Stiteler ruled that the City has been misclassifying those workers as outside the union — despite their performing the same work as union members on a regular basis. The non-union workers are paid roughly $3 an hour less, and have no benefits or job security. They work in aquatics, fitness, tennis, arts, music and other programs of the bureau.
The fact that the City changed its argument going into arbitration didn’t help its case with the arbitrator: During the grievance process, City managers said those employees don’t do the same work as unit members, but during arbitration, they said the employees do the same work, and had always done so, so it should be allowed to continue.
Local 483 filed the contract grievance in April 2013, took it to binding arbitration that November, and presented its arguments at a hearing held January 21–23, 2015.
The arbitrator said it was outside his authority to order that the employees become union members under the contract. But he ordered the City to stop assigning bargaining unit work to employees who aren’t members of the bargaining unit.
Attorney Barbara Diamond, who represented Local 483 in the case, says the City will now have to either hire them as union members, or stop assigning them the work of union members.
“The union has been fighting for over 10 years so that the low-paid temporary workers at Parks and Rec would be given fair wages and benefits,” Diamond said. “I see this as a great win.”