By COLIN STAUB
Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran dropped support for AFSCME Local 88 in its current bargaining process after the union endorsed fellow commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson—her opponent in the race for Multnomah County Chair. That’s according to a state elections complaint the union filed against Meieran. AFSCME filed the complaint Oct. 11, along with an unfair labor practice charge against Multnomah County as an employer.
AFSCME Local 88, which represents 3,700 employees of Multnomah County, decided in February to back Vega Pederson in the crowded race for Multnomah County Chair. Vega Pederson and Meieran ended up the top two vote-getters in the May 2022 primary, but neither had an outright majority, so they are facing off in the November general election.
At Meieran’s request, Local 88 president Joslyn Baker and AFSCME staff representative Eben Pullman met with her June 24; at the meeting, Meieran asked that the local reconsider its endorsement, or pull back its vocal support for Vega Pederson. When Meieran called Baker June 29 to follow up about that request, Baker told her that the local wouldn’t change its endorsement or its support for Vega Pederson.
According to materials submitted by AFSCME staff attorney Lane Toensmeier to the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB), the call got heated: “Meieran told Baker that she felt like the AFSCME’s decision to endorse Vega Pederson was a ‘fuck you’ to Meieran, and so Meieran was calling to say ‘fuck you’ to AFSCME.”
Beyond the alleged strong language, AFSCME says Meieran said she would not support AFSCME in its contract negotiations in light of the union’s endorsement decision, and would no longer meet with representatives of the union. Meieran followed through on the threat, the union says: Meieran previously met at least monthly with AFSCME representatives, the union says, but hasn’t done so since the June phone call.
In its complaint to ERB, AFSCME says Meieran, and by association Multnomah County as an employer, unlawfully interfered with the union’s protected activities when she allegedly threatened to cut off communication. ERB handles unfair labor practices involving Oregon public employers.
In a separate elections complaint filed with the Secretary of State’s office by attorney Margaret Olney, AFSCME accuses Meieran of violating state elections law by “threatening to use her power as a County Commissioner to induce AFSCME Local 88 to change its endorsement for her opponent, Jessica Vega Petersen, in the contested race for Multnomah County Chair.” State elections law prohibits coercing public employees to support or oppose any candidate for office.
Oregon AFSCME announced the complaints, and shared the legal documents, in a press release the same day they were filed.
Meieran, who only learned of the complaint when contacted by the Labor Press on Oct. 11, said since it’s pending litigation she’s limited in what she can say about it. She said in a statement emailed to the Labor Press that she’s “stunned by these allegations, and will be zealously challenging their factual basis as well as the conclusions reached.” She also questioned the timing of the complaint, which was filed a week before ballots were sent out and more than three months after the alleged phone call.
“My record of going to bat for County employees speaks for itself, and I will continue to show up for them on the front line and in the board room,” Meieran wrote.
In a later newsletter to supporters, Meieran said AFSCME had “lobbed allegations against me that amounted to a political hit piece as an effort to distract from the real issues.”
“These actions epitomize what people detest about politics—entrenched political players engaging in cronyism and power plays to advance their chosen candidates rather than working for the people they serve,” Meieran wrote.
Current Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury weighed in with an Oct. 14 letter to all County workers, apparently seeking to quell concerns that the Meieran-AFSCME feud could impact bargaining. She noted that bargaining is handled by County staff in its labor relations department, and that the board’s role is simply to vote on the agreement the bargaining teams reach.
“No member of the Board of County Commissioners has the authority or access to these negotiations to torpedo any proposals or bargaining efforts,” Kafoury wrote. In other words, even if Meieran stopped communicating with AFSCME, that wouldn’t impact contract negotiations, according to Kafoury.