City union breakup: Laborers Local 483 leaves the District Council of Trade Unions

CITY UNIONS UNITED: Members of DCTU unions rally for a fair contract outside Portland City Hall August 2013
CITY UNIONS UNITED: Members of DCTU unions rally for a fair contract outside Portland City Hall August 2013

Laborers Local 483 — which represents parks, street maintenance, water and sewer workers at the City of Portland — is leaving the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU). DCTU is a coalition of city unions that jointly negotiates a single contract. In ballots counted June 1, Local 483 members voted by greater than a 70 percent margin to withdraw from the DCTU.

The vote follows internal tensions within the DCTU during the most recent contract negotiations, chiefly over differences in strategy and priorities. Local 483 has tended to favor more vocal and adversarial tactics, and hasn’t been as involved as other DCTU unions in mayor and city council races. With about 600 members, Local 483 is the second largest union in the DCTU; AFSCME Local 189, with about 840 members is the largest. The others are IBEW Local 48, Machinists District Lodge 24, Operating Engineers Local 701, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 290, and Painters and Allied Trades District Council 5.

This isn’t a reflection on what the other DCTU members do. Our members wanted to see if they can get a better agreement on their own.” —Local 483 business manager Wesley Buchholz

“This [withdrawal] isn’t a reflection on what the other DCTU members do,” said Local 483 business manager Wesley Buchholz. “Our members wanted to see if they can get a better agreement on their own.”

“It’s like a break up,” Buchholz said. “If it doesn’t work out, we can always get back together.”

Local 483’s executive board recommended leaving, but presented both pros and cons to members. On the plus side, a smaller bargaining team might make for shorter negotiations. On the other hand, staying might better leverage the strength of greater numbers.

The current DCTU contract covers 1,656 members of all seven unions, and expires July 1, 2017. Negotiations are expected to begin later this year. Leaving the DCTU means Local 483 will bargain separately going forward.

Buchholz said one potential drawback of leaving is that city negotiators would play unions against each other; to counter that, he said the unions will have to remain in close communication.

“It might be easier to talk if we’re neighbors than if we’re living in the same house,” Buchholz said.

The city’s fire and police unions also bargain on their own. So does Professional & Technical Employees Local 17, the union formerly known as City of Portland Professional Employees Association (COPPEA).

Local 189 president Mark Gipson didn’t downplay that the DCTU unions have had different cultures and strategies, but said he wishes Local 483 the best of luck going forward.

“I really want this breakup to be amicable,” Gipson said. “It has to be.”

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