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Municipal trade workers vote to authorize strike in Portland

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Jan. 20, 2022 9:54 p.m.

Eighty six percent of those who voted supported a work stoppage. The biggest sticking point in negotiations between city and union leaders? Pay.

Members of the District Council of Trade Unions, which represents 1,100 city of Portland workers, have voted decisively to authorize a strike, ratcheting up the pressure on city leaders as the union moves one step closer to a mass walkout of its employees.

DCTU president Rob Martineau said 91% of the coalition’s members participated in the vote. The vast majority, 86%, voted for a strike.

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Community member Andrew Brown attends a rally in support of Portland city workers at the Bureau of Transportation’s Stanton Yard in North Portland, Jan. 18, 2022. District Council of Trade Unions’ negotiations with the city have reached an impasse and DCTU will hold a strike authorization vote. DCTU represents approximately 1,100 city employees.

Community member Andrew Brown attends a rally in support of Portland city workers at the Bureau of Transportation’s Stanton Yard in North Portland, Jan. 18, 2022. District Council of Trade Unions’ negotiations with the city have reached an impasse and DCTU will hold a strike authorization vote. DCTU represents approximately 1,100 city employees.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The results give the bargaining team the ability to officially go on strike 10 days after giving notice to the city.

They have not yet done so. The coalition’s bargaining team and city leaders continue to negotiate.

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The District Council of Trade Unions represents 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.

In total, the umbrella group represents approximately 16% of the city’s total workforce. Union members are responsible for providing critical services to keep Portland functioning, including water treatment, traffic sign repairs, and building inspections.

Negotiations over a new contract between the city and the coalition have been going on for nearly two years. Talks have stalled over wages.

The city’s most recent offer includes a 1.6% cost-of-living adjustment (or COLA) retroactive to July 1, 2021 and an additional 5% cost-of-living adjustment on July 1 of this year. All DCTU members would also receive a $3,000 bonus.

But union members contend the cost of living adjustments don’t keep up with inflation and the bonus amounts to a minor pay raise that will disappear after one year.

After 30 years with the city, Mike Elger, a vehicle and equipment mechanic, said he feels union members are moving backwards salary-wise.

“We’re trying to get the city to open up the wallet and start paying a fair wage for their services,” said Elger, who helps repair the city’s cars, dump trucks, motorcycles and backhoes. “They call us essential employees and we feel that should come with some benefit at least in compensation.”

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Trade unions accuse Portland officials of interfering in labor effort

In an unfair labor practice complaint filed late Friday, the District Council of Trade Unions alleges city supervisors polled union members on whether they would support a strike, told new members they could not participate and warned employees they would be denying vacation requests due to the looming walkout.