June 30th, 2010 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, City Hall

City Hall: Commissioners Air Labor Dispute

City Council debates labor issues June 30

Most of the City of Portland's contracts with its unions expire today, June 30. And as city officials work to settle those contract negotiations, one big-bucks issue bubbled to the surface in City Hall this morning.

On the agenda was City Council's tentative agreement with Laborers Local 483.

Local 483 is the first City of Portland labor group to reach a settlement, and Local 483's contract has what's known as a "me too" clause. That essentially means that if the City of Portland later gives other labor groups better agreements, like higher cost-of-living raises, then Local 483 gets it too.

Here's the kicker. If the City of Portland takes away benefits or pay increases from other labor groups, then the "me too" clause also applies.

And right now there's a major sticking point in contract negotiations with other City of Portland labor groups.

That would be the clause in the city's contract with DCTU -- an umbrella group that represents 1,800 workers, including Water Bureau employees, non-sworn positions in the Police Bureau and office administrators in several bureaus. That clause allows workers to collect overtime even if they haven't worked more than 40 hours in one week.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman wants to change that overtime clause. Doing so would save $3 million to $4 million a year and help the city preserve jobs, Saltzman said in City Council this morning.

"It's about keeping jobs," Saltzman says, "Not about condoning a practice that is outdated."

Commissioner Amanda Fritz backed Saltzman. "I share your concern," she said. "We need to get to something that is common sense."

But Commissioner Randy Leonard issued strong objections to not only the substance of Saltzman's point but the manner in which he made it.

Contract negotiations are ongoing and this particular clause was the subject of a recent City Council executive session, making it a private matter, Leonard says. Leonard, a one-time president of the city firefighters union, said changing this clause would be "anathema" to working Americans. He called it "a position that I thought had been addressed in the 1930s."

Commissioner Nick Fish, who often sides with Saltzman and Fritz on the five-person council, was on vacation today.
 
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