Portland Sign Co. signs first union contract


A unit of four workers at Portland Sign Co. on Jan. 10 became the second group of IBEW Local 48-represented electrical sign installers with a union contract. And another sign company may be close behind.

The workers  install, maintain, and repair signs, from simple door placards to intricately lighted signs. Sign installers complete a four-year, 8,000-hour apprenticeship program and obtain a CDL, welding certification, and crane certification.

Portland Sign Co. manufactures signs at 11715 NE Summer St. in Portland, and 1400 SE Township Rd. in Canby. It has made signs for The Watermark Hotel, the City of Estacada, and Chase Bank. 

Their first union contract raised the starting wage to $48.18 an hour, about $7 an hour more than the average pay for a sign installer in Portland, said Local 48 organizer Matt Nosack. It also provides full family medical and dental insurance, and a $1 per hour pension contribution. 

Under the contract, managers must give at least one-week notice before they assign workers to an out-of-town job. Before, the company might forget to tell a worker about a sign install job in, for example, Seattle until a day before the overnight trip was scheduled. 

“They have kids, they have a husband or wife, they have animals, and they need to make arrangements for these things,” Nosack said. 

Nosack said sign installers are a newer focus of organizing at Local 48, which hopes to resurrect a once thriving union culture among sign installers. From the mid-1940s to the early ’80s, unions represented the majority of sign installers in all aspects of the trade, including fabrication, installation, and maintenance. Local 48 had a full apprenticeship training program for the industry. But a year-long strike in the early 1980s destroyed the contract that covered those workers, and union membership fizzled out. 

Then, in 2019, Local 48 organized its first sign company in decades: Sign installers at Tube Art Group (TAG) in Milwaukie voted 7-1 to join the union. Portland Sign Co. became the metro area’s second union sign company when workers voted unanimously to join Local 48 on May 23, 2023.

Nosack said the union is “right on track” to organize workers at a third sign company, but he declined to share the name of the company until workers hear back on their request for voluntary recognition. 

“It’s still kind of a newer world for us,” he said. “All in all, it’s changing the lives of people that work there, getting a better situation to be in and raising the tide for the industry, too.” 


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