Don't look now, but the City of Portland and its largest labor union are at odds again--only a week after declaring peace.
In a surprising move Monday night, the executive board of AFSCME Local 189 recommended that its 1,000 members reject a tentative agreement reached with the city Oct. 22. "I'm utterly stunned," says Mayor Vera Katz. "I'm very upset because we worked very hard and it was a compromise for everybody." (See "The Woman Who Almost Shut Down Portland," WW, Oct. 24, 2001).
Because 189 is the largest member of the District Council of Trade Unions, Portland's principal government-employee union, an overwhelming no vote by AFSCME members could force a strike against the city. AFSCME leaders say they're simply reflecting the views of their members. "There's great dissatisfaction with the terms of the contract," says Chuck Moffit, a member of AFSCME's bargaining team.
Once again, health-care costs are at the center of the conflict. AFSCME officials say that the city promised to create a premium share program that would allow low-wage employees to pay as little as $16 a month for family health care, while higher-wage employees would pay $50. They contend that the city offered the sliding-scale plan as long as the union found a way to save between 19 percent and 25 percent on overall health-care costs. City officials, however, say the offer was clearly pegged to a minimum 25 percent savings.
"I don't regard this as operating in good faith," says City Commissioner Dan Saltzman. The city is considering filing an unfair labor practice complaint with the state Employment Relations Board.
AFSCME spokesman Don Loving says that while DCTU is bound to recommend the agreement to its members, AFSCME is an individual unit and free to do as it pleases.
Yvonne Deckard, the city's human-resources director, says the city is dusting off its strike contingency plans and sent out notices to bureaus on Tuesday to be prepared to have their employees walk off the job as early as Nov. 19. Votes of DCTU and AFSCME members will be tallied Nov. 9.