PORTLAND, Ore. — Two unions representing the bulk of Portland's public safety personnel on Wednesday publicly announced their endorsement of Rene Gonzalez, the candidate running to unseat Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty in November.
"Watching our community safety structure crumble has been devastating, and we want to restore Portland to a healthy, thriving city where residents have a safe place to live and work," the Portland Police Association and Portland Firefighters Association said in a joint statement. "Rene Gonzalez is deeply committed to making Portland safe for everyone."
The unions referred to an ongoing staffing crisis that has plagued both the Portland Police Bureau and Portland Fire & Rescue, saying that Gonzalez showed commitment to "commonsense solutions." Those solutions were not enumerated.
“The core job of our officers and dispatchers is to protect our community and ensure help is on the way. Rene Gonzalez has the right priorities to make sure Portland’s law enforcement community and dispatchers have enough resources and staffing to do just that,” said Aaron Schmautz, PPA president. “Portland is a wonderful city, and it needs leadership with public safety priorities to get us back on the right track.”
“Our city continues to grow, and we need the fire bureau, emergency communications bureau, and police bureau to grow with it. Rene understands the value of a city that prioritizes public safety so residents can live, work, and play safely,” said Isaac McLennan, president of IAFF Local 43, the firefighters' union. “Portland firefighters care deeply about the community we serve, and we will always answer the call for help; we know that Rene Gonzalez will too.”
Both Gonzalez and Hardesty have now snagged several major union endorsements. Hardesty notably received endorsements from SEIU Local 49 and SEIU Local 503, representing health care and public sector workers, among others.
The PPA's opposition to Commissioner Hardesty does not come as any surprise after a long history of butting heads, currently ongoing in the form of a lawsuit that Hardesty filed against the PPA and several members after the leak of false information identifying her as the suspect in a hit-and-run case.
Former PPA president Brian Hunzeker was fired from the Portland Police Bureau in March for his involvement in the leak.
But the IAFF Local 43 endorsement represents a more significant, if not surprising, blow to Hardesty's campaign. Under Portland's current form of government, Hardesty heads the fire bureau. Her flagship contribution to the bureau came in the form of Portland Street Response, an unarmed crisis intervention team that has gotten high marks and a mandate to expand services throughout the city.
Right now, Hardesty's office is involved in negotiations with IAFF Local 43 as firefighters lobby for an overtime pay boost. The union has said this is due to two years of frequent mandatory overtime to plug gaps caused by chronic staffing shortages.
"I respect the decision of the 14-member executive board, and I still have the back of the over 750 firefighters in Portland," Hardesty said in a statement to KGW.
"It's disappointing to see labor organizations endorse a candidate who has publicly disparaged unions. We are proud of Commissioner Hardesty's track record of championing workers' rights," added Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons, Hardesty's campaign manager. "Commissioner Hardesty has offered to meet since topping the May Primary. However, at this time, she is in the middle of negotiations with the council on a complex fire union request that impacts Portland's public safety readiness and believes it is inappropriate to seek a political endorsement. We have communicated with union leadership that she would be happy to meet once this is resolved."
“I worked closely with Fire & Rescue to explore the option of temporarily providing double overtime when mandatory overtime has been necessary, but Chief Boone and I agreed that the substantial cost required to adjust the bureau's current budget would negatively impact Firefighter safety, performance, and operations," Hardesty continued. "We are following recommendations made during a recent work session to address the staffing shortage through aggressive recruitment and budget adjustments in the regular budget process.”
Gonzalez presaged the announcement from IAFF Local 43 on Tuesday, saying that he'd earned the union's endorsement and looked forward to "to working with our public safety workers in protecting and restoring the city we love."