Schoolhouse Electric signs first union contract with IBEW 48

By MALLORY GRUBEN

A unit of about 50 electrical manufacturing workers at Schoolhouse Electric in Portland started 2024 with their first union contract as members of IBEW Local 48.

The three-year agreement sets starting wages at $20 an hour, up from $18 an hour. Workers with at least nine months experience immediately received a 3% wage increase or 50 cents per hour pay bump, whichever was higher.

The agreement also:

  • Guarantees workers get paid time and a half if they work more than eight hours in a day, or on weekends.
  • Provides 2% cost of living raises on July 1 of 2024 and 2025, and a 2.5% cost of living raise on July 1, 2026.
  • Improves the attendance policy by adding a 15-minute grace period before a worker is considered tardy and increasing how many offenses must occur to trigger discipline.

Schoolhouse assembles and ships high-end lighting fixtures from a facility in Northwest Portland. The company is owned by New York-headquartered Food52.

In October 2022, the workers who make the lights voted 31-24 to join Local 48. Ahead of the union election, the company retained the anti-union law firm Littler Mendelson, and hired Libra Management Consulting to lead “captive audience” meetings to try to convince workers to reject the union.

Local 48 business rep Joe Bond said negotiations for a first contract started in January 2023 and went smoothly — a refreshing change of pace after management’s antagonistic approach early on. One reason for the change: Schoolhouse switched their attorney to Jenny Marston, a Lake Oswego-based management-side lawyer who previously worked for IBEW Local 1245 in California.

“Having her there helped because she had an idea of how the IBEW usually bargains contracts, especially first contracts. It helped make negotiations go smoother,” Bond said. “There were intense moments … but it never got mean. It never got nasty.”

Workers ratified the contract with 85% approval during a vote Dec. 15, and the contract took effect Jan. 2. It expires March 31, 2027.   

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