Several hundred people rallied in downtown Portland July 19 in a show of support for the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU), which is bargaining a new contract with the City.
The DCTU is comprised of a half-dozen locals that bargain jointly for about 1,200 workers. The unions are AFSCME Local 189, Machinists Lodge 63, IBEW Local 48, Plumbers and Fitters Local 290, Operating Engineers Local 701, and Painters Local 10.
The previous contract expired June 30, and the sides have completed their required 150 days of bargaining. At any time, either side can declare impasse and proceed to “self remedy.”
“That’s not something I like to think about, but it’s really our final bullet, it’s our final answer, and it’s the only bullet in our gun,” said Rob Martineau, president of AFSCME Local 189 and spokesperson for the DCTU. “The city says it’s a progressive town, but they’re moving toward a labor dispute,” Martineau said, responding to calls to “shut it down.”
At the rally, the DCTU drew support from the Oregon AFL-CIO, the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 (the state’s largest private sector union), and many other unions.
Martineau said the DCTU is looking for three things: a 2 percent wage increase across the board, a retroactive cost of living adjustment (COLA) to June 30, and no HIPPA (Health Insurance Privacy and Protection Act) release requirement to maintain lower out-of-pocket insurance costs.
“If the City can’t produce those three things, unfortunately, we’re going to be in a very different spot in a few months,” Martineau said.
Several speakers scolded City commissioners for not being more involved in the bargaining process.
“They are hiding behind their HR department,” said Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain. City workers, who live and work in one of the most expensive cities on the West Coast, “are just trying to keep their heads above water,” Chamberlain said.
Jeff Anderson, president of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, told the Labor Press that the city commissioners’ and mayor’s continued hands-off approach in the negotiations “is very disappointing.”
“NOLC and its member locals stand with the DCTU in demanding a fair contract for all city workers,” he said.
A week after the rally, NOLC sent a letter to Mayor Ted Wheeler and the entire City Council asking them to take a more active role in negotiations. “We like to think Portland is a Union Town,” the letter read, “but the continued hard-core bargaining with the DCTU makes us wonder if that is actually the case.”
Delegates at the Labor Council’s July 24 monthly meeting voted to send a letter to Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish informing them that the Labor Council will not be making any endorsements in City elections at this time. Both have announced that they will run for re-election in 2018, and both have asked the Labor Council for an endorsement.