Portland city laborers rally ahead of planned strike

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Ahead of a planned strike on Thursday, dozens of members of LiUNA Laborers’ Local 483 joined together at a rally on Saturday, outside Portland City Hall, after the city and the union failed to agree to new contract terms after 10 months of negotiations.

“We’re here to show the city — that if they want to be an employer of choice — then they have to bring the money,” said one of the speakers to a crowd holding signs. “They have not accounted for inflation. They have not accounted for cost of living. They have not accounted for how every single person’s job has changed.”

More than 600 Portland workers in the wastewater, parks and transportation fields plan to strike on Feb. 2, starting at midnight.

The groups of workers planning to go on strike, according to the union, include:

  • About 280 Bureau of Transportation workers, from concrete finishers to asphalt rakers to utility workers
  • About 200 Parks & Recreation workers, from park technicians and turf technicians to horticulturalists and park rangers
  • About 100 Bureau of Environmental Services workers, namely sewage and wastewater employees
  • Other city employees, including fleet and vehicle workers

“We’re looking for increased pay, and some other increased benefits,” said Scott Morris, who works for Portland Parks and Recreation as a carpenter.

“We’re just kind of letting the city know how many of us there are, and that we’re serious about exercising our right to strike if we don’t have the very basic things that we’re asking for met. We’re being reasonable in our opinion, and we just want to have a positive and cooperative dialogue with them that’s not adversarial.”

The city and the union are at an impasse over pay — specifically cost-of-living increase and raises that reflect rising inflation.

Portland said it is offering a 12% wage increase to these workers by July, with half of that retroactive to 2022. This increase includes a 5% cost-of-living increase for each year.

The union, however, wants the city to remove the annual cap of 5% for cost-of-living increases.

James O’Laughlen, a former wastewater operator who’s now working as a field representative for the union, said if 630 specialized trade workers strike starting on Thursday, the Portland community will notice.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge for the city to find people that can replicate the work our folks do,” O’Laughlen said. “Things break, all the catastrophic failures that we face routinely that get addressed, they’re not going to be fixed. Sewer lines, pump stations, city infrastructure, crises in the parks.”

In preparation, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued an emergency declaration, which says the city is preparing to hire contractors to ensure the ‘continuity of services’ as the city respects the right of workers to strike.

The city and union reps held negotiation sessions on Friday. The city reports it’s also offering healthcare improvements, increased hours for seasonal workers and other concessions.

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