By COLIN STAUB
More than 600 City of Portland workers spanning three bureaus began a strike on Thursday, Feb. 2, after more than 10 months of negotiations with the City. Workers in the Transportation, Parks and Environmental Services stopped work on Thursday at 12:01 a.m.
The City is offering a 6% wage increase retroactive to July 2022, a 6% wage increase in July 2023, and capped cost-of-living adjustments of 1% to 5% (based on inflation) in 2024 and 2025. The City has framed this as a “12% raise by July” in public statements.
But Laborers Local 483 is holding to higher increases, especially considering, in workers’ view, the City’s offer leaves workers several percentage points behind inflation.
“Even if they give us 5 or 6 percent, we’re still going backwards in our purchasing ability,” said Eric Payne, a parks technician and shop steward, speaking at a Jan. 28 rally outside Portland City Hall. “And none of us that are in this contract, we’re not pulling in big money.”
Local 483 is pushing for wage increases that keep up entirely with the Consumer Price Index for large cities in the western United States. The union proposal also provides a 3.5% raise on top of the COLA.
That all amounts to a 10% increase retroactive to July 2022. This coming July, it could be closer to 11%, depending on CPI figures.
At the rally, Joshua LaPierre, a PBOT worker and member of the Laborers bargaining team, called on the City to meet the union’s proposal and make workers a priority once again.
“This used to be prime, this used to be the best jam,” he said of working for the City. “We’re far away from that jam today, and we need to get some back.”
Payne, who has worked for the city for nearly 20 years, said the cost of living has risen and wages are close to stagnant.
“If I were a younger worker here starting out, I could not afford to be here anymore,” he said. “Unless they start doing something to correct the wage scales, you’re not going to have long-term employees and people that actually invest in this as a job and a career.”
As the deadline approached, Local 483 was busy with strike prep.
“It didn’t feel 100% real until we ordered the portapotties,” Local 483 business manager Ryan Sotomayor told the Labor Press.
The City was also preparing for the strike. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Jan. 26 declared a state of emergency paving the way for the City to bring in replacement workers, who would cross the picket line during the work stoppage. He also authorized City administrators to “hire contractors and other vendors to perform the work usually performed by PCL-represented employees.”
Late on Feb. 1, Parks workers gathered at the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant and formed a picket line ahead of the strike. At midnight, Environmental Services workers inside the plant walked out, to cheers from the crowd. Transportation workers walked out at the City’s Kerby maintenance facility in North Portland. Pickets were planned at the wastewater plant, the Kerby and Albina PBOT facilities, and the Tabor Yard Parks facility throughout the day Thursday.
On the strike line, workers described some of the possible effects of the strike on City services. In the parks, daily maintenance like emptying the garbage cans will be on hold, as will minor facility repair work. One worker said parks supervisors decided to shut park bathrooms down during the strike, lacking anyone to maintain them. There won’t be any park rangers, as they’re also represented under the PCL contract.
Transportation bureau workers are responsible for ensuring safe road conditions during inclement weather. If the current cold spell brings any ice, workers who normally de-ice the roads won’t be there to handle that task.
The Wastewater Treatment Plant typically runs with a skeleton crew overnight, and workers said it’s possible supervisors were trying to fill in as the strike began. But for the roughly 100 sewage pump stations located throughout Portland, it’s unclear who will monitor and maintain those during the strike.
Although a couple City tanker trucks crossed the picket line early on Feb. 2, there was no sign of temporary workers arriving at the plant.
As the strike began, Local 483 and City management weren’t scheduled to meet again until Saturday.
UPDATE 2/6: Local 483 and the City reached a tentative agreement early on Feb. 5. It’s a four-year contract, providing a wage increase of at least 8% and up to 21.5% depending on job classification, retroactive to July 2022, another 5% increase in July 2023, and 1-5% in 2024 and 2025. The tentative agreement also provides increased standby pay, which workers receive when they’re on call, from what was in the City’s previous final offer. Full details are available from Laborers Local 483 and the City of Portland.
I find it disappointing that you failed to call out Cathy Bless, Director of the Bureau of Human Resources that is in charge of the management side of bargaining. You also failed to compare her stance against blue collar employees as compared to how she advocates for professional white collar City staff even if they are incompetent and lazy.
I find it interesting that you refer to scabs as simply “replacement workers” when they would be SCABS by definition and that threats to use scab labor was done by a Democratic Mayor who proudly proclaims he is a progressive. What about the rest of the so called progressives within the City who appear to have absolutely zero problem crossing LIUNA’s picket lines? Will they stand up when the Mayor and Bless hold to their word and bring in scab labor?
Ronald, I can understand your anger, and yes you are right we should always call ‘replacement workers’ with the word, SCAB.
But let us not fall into the old management trap of dividing workers along the lines of blue- and white-collar workers. Non-management white collar ‘staff’ are still workers.
I know one white collar worker who had to work from home and had to endure many costs which the management are not reciprocating. So, all workers are being screwed. And they may even be on strike at some point.
Solidarity forever means respecting all picket lines, so all unions working for the city should remember the old mantra, ‘an injury to one is an injury to all.’
Stay strong, pickets!