By COLIN STAUB
In ballots counted June 2, a group of 46 employees who operate tiny house villages for the homeless in Portland voted 15-3 to unionize.
In April, workers sent a letter to managers of All Good Northwest declaring their intent to be represented by Oregon AFSCME. The nonprofit, headquartered in Southeast Portland’s Revolution Hall, operates three tiny house villages (Old Town Village, Queer Affinity Village and BIPOC Village) and recently opened an indoor shelter in the Central Eastside. It’s also in the process of opening another village and shutting its Old Town site. All Good declined to voluntarily recognize the union, so the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) scheduled a mail ballot election.
NLRB field examiner Michael Steffany counted the ballots June 2 in a virtual meeting attended by AFSCME attorney Lane Toensmeier, and All Good Northwest executive director Andy Goebel and attorney Michael Jonas. Goebel and Jonas expressed concern because the 15-3 vote meant turnout of about 39%. Jonas suggested maybe some ballots were “lost in the mail” or people didn’t want to vote, and said the results would be more acceptable if the turnout had been higher. Steffany declined to address their concerns during the public ballot count meeting. Under NLRB rules, elections are decided by the majority of votes cast, regardless of whether that’s a majority of the overall bargaining unit. Goebel did not return a phone call and voicemail seeking comment after the election.
AFSCME organizer Sarah Thompson said the workers will likely join AFSCME Local 1790, which represents behavioral health workers at Lines For Life, Cascadia Behavioral Health, Lifeworks NW and more.
Union supporter Michael Rainey said he felt relief at the results, but wasn’t surprised: Workers there have been desperate for workplace improvements for some time.
“People are definitely feeling excited and ready for change,” he said.
As the Labor Press reported in May, All Good Northwest workers are concerned about safety because of conditions at the Old Town site. Earlier this year, an investigator for Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that the village had highly unsanitary conditions and workers weren’t receiving proper training or tools.
Rainey said upcoming bargaining priorities will include a safety plan in case of an active shooter, making available more Narcan (a drug to treat overdoses), providing workers with CPR training and better general job training.
Workers are preparing to shut down the Old Town site. Management determined conditions in the Old Town neighborhood surrounding the village made it too unsafe to continue operating, Willamette Week first reported. All Good Northwest is opening a new tiny house pod in Multnomah Village, and Rainey said workers are making sure that site was operational before moving about half the Old Town village residents into the new space.