By COLIN STAUB
Union tree trimmers last month rejected a tentative agreement by an overwhelmingly margin—98%, with turnout of about 60%. IBEW Local 125 represents about 430 tree trimmers. Their employers, Asplundh Tree Experts, Wright Tree Service, Trees Inc. and DJ’s Electrical, bargain together. Negotiations started in October, and the previous contract expired at the end of 2021. Tree trimmers covered by the contract work all over Oregon, from Clatsop County to Wallowa, down to Harney County, plus Clark, Klickitat and Skamania counties in Washington.
Tommy Lux, business representative for IBEW 125, said a priority is to improve apprentice wages and benefits.
“The tree trade, where we’re sitting right now, we’re not very competitive against other union apprenticeships,” Lux said. That makes recruiting and retaining new hires a struggle.
Currently, entry-level tree trimmers make $23.47 per hour—significantly less than electric linemen, who start at $33.43 an hour.
In the agreement rejected by members, contractors proposed a 2.75% wage increase for 2022, about $0.65 an hour.
Retention is particularly important because Local 125 has seen a spike in demand for tree trimming. Workers trim and prune to reduce the spread of wildfires. They also remove hazard trees in the aftermath of wildfires, such as after the 2020 Beachie Creek fire that burned Detroit, Oregon. They face challenging conditions, including hazardous dead trees, sinkholes, and loose soil.
The next bargaining sessions are set for May 3-4.