By October 1, at least 130 more workers at City of Portland recreation and community centers will have union wages and benefits than a year ago — thanks to an agreement with Laborers Local 483 that was ratified by Portland City Council Feb. 17.
The agreement is the result of a decade-long campaign by the union to end the City’s over-use of temp and casual workers. Last May, an arbitrator ruled that the City was violating its collective bargaining agreement with Local 483 by assigning bargaining unit work to low-wage non-union employees at the rec centers. The agreement City Council ratified on Feb. 17 spells out how the City will comply with the arbitrator’s order to “cease and desist” doing that.
“For years, so-called ‘casual’ staff working in our recreation centers have been doing the same work as their permanent counterparts for almost half the pay,” Local 483 president Wesley Buchholz told City Council Feb. 17. “These casual staff — many who have worked for the City nine, 10, even 24 years, year after year — have had to make do with poverty wages in a city that now has the fastest rising rents in the nation.… City employees, like any type of worker, deserve a wage that allows them to live in the City they serve.”
Last July, in a first phase of complying with the arbitrator’s ruling, the City agreed that pre-school teachers, assistant pool managers, and customer service reps should be in the Parks and Rec bargaining unit. The two sides then continued to negotiate over what kinds of work will be union-represented, and the agreement approved Feb. 17 codifies what they agreed to.
Managers estimate the bureau will need an additional $4.4 million a year to fund all the new positions. If economic conditions prevent the City from funding all the new permanent positions, union, management, and City Council agree to discuss alternatives to reducing the workforce.
Mayor Charlie Hales praised Local 483 for conducting itself in an honorable way, and all five members of City Council praised union and management for their work on the deal before voting for the agreement.
“I consider this agreement one of the most significant achievements of my service on the City Council,” said City Commissioner Amanda Fritz.
Commissioner Steve Novick was the one killjoy amid all the praise, warning that funding the Parks arbitration settlement has to compete with other budgetary priorities, like the Bureau of Emergency Communications, which he oversees.
“We are going to have to cut services somewhere unless we come up with additional revenue somehow,” Novick said.