A potential strike of municipal trade workers looms in Portland, threatening to curtail the city’s ability to provide basic services.
After over a year of bargaining, the District Council of Trade Unions declared an impasse last month, indicating negotiations with the city over its contract have deadlocked.
The District Council of Trade Unions represents roughly 1,200 city employees in six unions: AFSCME Local 189, IBEW Local 48, Plumbers Local 290, Painters and Allied Trades District Council 5, Machinists District Lodge No. 24, and Operating Engineers Local 701.
Combined, the unions that comprise the coalition provide services for every bureau in the city. Union members treat the Bull Run watershed, repair traffic signs, inspect buildings, pay the city’s bills and file police reports, among other functions.
DCTU president Rob Martineau said the coalition could give notice of a strike as soon as Jan. 10. They would go on strike 10 days after giving notice.
“We’re not spoiling for a strike, but at some point we have to stand up for ourselves and our family,” Martineau said. “We are Portlanders. We work and live and volunteer and do all the things in the city we serve and we’re unwilling to be displaced economically from Portland.”
The impasse was first reported by the NW Labor Press.
Martineau said the coalition’s major sticking point with the city’s offer is wages that don’t keep up with what it costs to live in Portland. He said he views the city’s proposal of a cost-of-living increase of 1.6% as deeply unreasonable considering the U.S. inflation rate rose by more than 6% over the last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“At this point, the city of Portland is unable to really recognize the cost of having a workforce,” Martineau said.
Cathy Bless, the city’s chief human resource officer, said the 1.6% cost-of-living adjustment (or COLA) is retroactive to July 1, 2021, and employees would receive a lump sum for the amount accumulated since last year. The city’s offer allows for another cost of living increase effective July 1 of this year, which could go as high as 5%.
“The nation’s economic landscape has changed in the last year and we’ve all experienced higher inflation,” Bless said. “I expect the 2022 COLA will be near the ceiling, if not at the ceiling, of 5% given the current inflation factors.”
City and union negotiators have two more mediation sessions scheduled for Jan. 5 and 11.
Martineau said this is the third contract in a row in which DCTU and City Hall have been unable to reach an agreement by the end of the bargaining process, putting the city on the path to a major strike that would gut Portland of critical services. In all but one case, such a strike was averted.
The DCTU went on strike, albeit briefly, in 2001. The coalition walked out for 45 minutes before the two sides came to an agreement.