By MALLORY GRUBEN
In what union supporters are calling a delay tactic, the City of Portland is claiming that not one of 762 office employees in a proposed union is eligible to be union represented under state law.
City of Portland Professional Workers (CPPW), a newly formed independent union, asked the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) Feb. 1 to hold a union election among analysts, coordinators, administrative specialists, and several other classifications across multiple bureaus. Those workers are the last large group of city workers without union representation.
On Feb. 27, City attorneys objected to the election going forward, arguing that none of the 17 classifications of workers that would be included in the union can legally organize because they are supervisors, “confidential” employees, have an “administrative affinity with management” or don’t share a community of interest with other bargaining unit members. Some jobs fall under multiple legal exclusions, according to city attorneys.
CPPW is working with Portland labor lawyer Katelyn Oldham to refute the claims.
Jeff Winkler, a member of the CPPW organizing committee, said the group specifically chose not to include about 50 employees who do qualify as managers or confidential employees in its proposed bargaining unit. Winkler said he’s certain the other employees do not meet the legal definition of those exclusions.
“I’ve been with the city for eight years, and I’ve never once managed anybody,” he said. “I’ve never once worked on anything that had anything to do with labor contract analysis or negotiations.”
The objection is the first the union heard from the City since filing their petition, Winkler said. He said the same delay tactic has already been tried unsuccessfully: The city filed similar objections against AFSCME Local 189 when it organized the city auditor’s office.
“Those objections didn’t work with them,” he said. “There are also people in our housing bureau that do our same jobs, so the city trying to say that we are not eligible doesn’t make any sense, because people doing the same jobs in the city are already unionized.”
In emailed responses to the Labor Press, city spokesperson Carrie Belding said the City respects the rights of employees who ERB determines would be appropriate, respects ERB’s processes, and does not engage in delay tactics.
Belding wanted to emphasize that the union is seeking an election after signing up the required minimum 30% of employees, instead of presenting cards from a majority in the “card check” method.
“It’s important to understand how it works when this route is taken and the ERB runs an election, because a very small group of employees could decide for a proportionally much larger group if voter turnout is low,” Belding wrote. “Not voting is not the same as a no vote, so potentially affected employees can only make their voices heard by voting.” [Editor’s note: Not voting is not the same as a no vote. As in most elections, the result is decided by those who vote.]
Winkler said some workers were discouraged by the city’s “knee jerk reaction to be anti-union,” despite its reputation as a progressive municipality. Members of the organizing committee have met with many of them to explain what’s really going on.
“We recognize this for what it is: a delay tactic,” Winkler said. “It’s just like a box we have to check. They are not going to stop us. We are going to get a vote, and we are confident we are going to win the vote.”
[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that project managers and legal assistants are included in the proposed bargaining unit.]
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