Employees of the Portland City Auditor’s Office filed a labor organization petition May 5 seeking union representation through Oregon’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 189.

The petition states that the bargaining unit would consist of 33 non-supervisory employees who make up the Auditor’s Office, including archives and records coordinators, performance auditors and investigators for the city’s police oversight board, Independent Police Review.

Labor laws require more than 50% of employees in the bargaining unit to sign cards stating that they wish to be represented by the union. David Kreisman, communications director of Oregon AFSCME, says “a strong majority” of the 33 staffers signed cards.

Kreisman says Oregon AFSCME is hopeful that the city of Portland will voluntarily recognize the union. If not, per state labor law, the parties will proceed to an election. The City Attorney’s Office declined to comment whether the city would voluntarily recognize the union.

The petition lands at a precarious moment for IPR employees, who face potential layoffs around 2022 as the city works to implement a new citizen oversight board approved by 81% of voters in November.

The new oversight board is intended to dissolve and replace IPR. Last fall, its backers had allotted an 18-month time frame to get the board up and running. But the board has hit snags since Measure 26-217′s passage, in both the Legislature and during ongoing contract negotiations between the city and the Portland Police Association, which staunchly opposes the new board.

Those hurdles have caused a sense of uncertainty among some IPR employees, who say it’s unclear how much time they have left in City Hall before needing to find new work, and who worry about a potential period of limbo between dissolving IPR and establishing the new board.

“At this point, nobody knows how long that transition will take,” says Eric Berry, lead investigator at IPR. “The problem is, if you don’t do this transition right, you’re looking at a period where the city may not be able to do police accountability investigations or do them at a level that the community expects them to do.

“We want to be a part of the decision-making process,” Berry continued, “to have a voice in what happens to us and to help make sure the transition to the new system happens as smoothly as possible.”

City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who spearheaded the passage of Measure 26-217, says she supports the unionization.

“As the daughter of a longshoreman, I strongly support the right of workers to unionize and support voluntary recognition processes that make unions easier to join,” Hardesty tells WW.

City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero, who was one of the most vocal opponents of Measure 26-217, proposed in March to transition the 14 IPR employees into a new unit called “Evaluation and Investigative Services” in 2022-23. That proposal spurred debate between Caballero and Hardesty.

In late April, Caballero issued a new proposal: assign the 14 employees to civilian oversight in IPR until June 2023 so that the City Council has two fiscal years to implement the new board. After that period, those staffers would then be assigned to “accountability and transparency work” within the Auditor’s Office, according to Caballero’s proposal, which she shared with WW.

It remains unclear whether that proposal has legs at the City Council. Caballero did not immediately respond to WW’s request for comment.