Last big unit of City of Portland workers unionizes


A unit of 712 workers at the City of Portland will be represented by a new independent union — City of Portland Professional Workers Union (CPPW) — thanks to a 306-68 vote tallied June 6. They were the last large group of nonunion workers at the city.

Their new bargaining unit covers coordinators, analysts, administrative specialists, financial analysts, hearing officers, multimedia specialists, and technology business representatives, among other classifications. CPPW Organizing Committee President Kari Koch works on liquor licensing for the Bureau of Development Services. She said she and others in the new unit have long worked alongside members of AFSCME Local 189 and PROTEC17 who have better wages, benefits, and working conditions because of their union contracts. For example, unionized workers at the City of Portland recently negotiated cost of living raises of 5% to 13%, Koch said, while unrepresented workers got at most 2%, based on subjective performance reviews.

“It was very clear that organizing together would get us the respect, the wages, the benefits we deserve and that we have been working hard to earn,” Koch said. 

CPPW Outreach Coordinator Connor Anderson, a city IT worker, said workers now represented by CPPW tried to join established unions several times in the last five years by using the state’s “card check” law, which requires public employers to recognize a union once more than 50% of a unit signs cards supporting it. But Anderson said organizers struggled to meet that threshold. Workers decided to start their own organization and ask for an election; such a petition only requires signatures from 30% of a unit. Anderson said the fact that CPPW won more than 80% approval among those who voted shows that workers were ready for a union. 

“The strength of the support we had gotten today is completely in line with what we’ve been seeing,” he said. “They are sick of being an afterthought for the city and taken for granted. They are ready to stand up for their rights.”

The workers will now turn their attention to structuring their union, electing leaders, and determining what they want to see in a first contract, Koch said.


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