By COLIN STAUB
Portland parks, transportation and environmental services workers are moving closer to a work stoppage. In the month since the City of Portland pledged to present its wage proposal to Laborers Local 483, workers still haven’t received an offer.
Both sides agreed to discuss economic proposals for the first time on Nov. 15, after bargaining since March on the Portland City Laborers contract. But at that session, the City discussed only limited economic terms. The City didn’t touch on across-the-board increases, shift premiums or cost-of-living adjustments. Local 483, meanwhile, continues to propose uncapped cost-of-living adjustments tied to inflation, and an across-the-board raise of 3.5% for the first year of the new contract.
In the last week of November, the City canceled a bargaining session. When both sides finally met again on Dec. 6 for their first mediation session, the key economic details were again absent from the City’s proposal.
“There is mounting frustration for our folks,” said James O’Laughlen, a field representative for Local 483. “We want to keep having the conversation, engage in mediation, participate in good faith the same way we have been, but we’re not going to let it deter us from walking the path towards strike. Our people have been delayed long enough, we need a resolution.”
That’s backed up by numbers: In October, Local 483 members voted by 95% to authorize a strike if needed. Local 483 is not quite at that point just yet, but it’s approaching. Under Oregon’s Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act, 15 days after mediation begins, either side could declare an “impasse.” Then, both sides would submit their final proposals and estimates of what they would cost to implement. After a 30-day “cooling off” period, the union could call a strike.
If nothing else, an impasse would finally compel the City to present its proposal for raises and COLAs. Without those, bargaining is essentially at a standstill.
“There’s no proposal for us to counter,” O’Laughlen said.
A City spokesperson did not respond to a request from the Labor Press for comment.
Despite the glacial pace of wage bargaining, worker energy is ramping up. Local 483 members turned out to three recent informational pickets outside the City bureaus the union represents. They rallied on Nov. 17 at the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) Maintenance Operations garage on Kerby Avenue; at the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Wastewater Treatment Plant on Columbia Boulevard on Nov. 30; and at Portland Parks & Recreation’s Tabor Yard on Division Street on Dec. 8.
“We need a COLA that mirrors inflation,” said Local 483 member Jayne Lacey. “If people on Social Security are getting 9% COLA, why aren’t we?” Lacey, an arborist who’s worked for the City for 19 years, was one of several dozen members at the Nov. 30 picket.
“We’re trying to tell them as loudly as we can, ‘We’re not going away,’” says O’Laughlen, the bargaining rep. “Sometimes the City only responds to a crisis, and we’re willing to be that crisis if we need to.”
—Don McIntosh also contributed to this story