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Mayor Wheeler declares state of emergency ahead of looming strike by Portland city laborers

More than 600 city sewer, roads, parks and other workers could go on strike as early as Feb. 2 as lengthy negotiations have failed to produce a new contract.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued an emergency declaration Thursday as hundreds of employees with the City of Portland prepare to go on strike as early as next week.

Laborers International Union of North America Local 483 said it delivered a notice of the intent to strike to the city on Monday. The notice applies to more than 600 city employees under the "Portland City Laborers" contract.

Notices of an intent to strike require 10 days before a strike can begin, so laborers could halt work beginning Thursday, Feb. 2,  if no agreement is reached before then.

The union represents workers in Portland's wastewater treatment, pollution testing, street maintenance and park ranger services.

"They are the workers who showed up, in person, throughout the pandemic to keep our City running," the union said in a statement. "They delayed negotiating a new contract for a year to accommodate the City of Portland in its time of need. In response, City decision makers have treated their safety and financial security as a low priority."

Negotiations between union representatives and the city have gone on for more than 300 days without reaching an agreement, the union said — about 10 months.

The City of Portland said in a Tuesday statement that it is preparing for the possibility of a strike.

"PCL employees have the legal right to strike, and the City will not retaliate against any PCL employees who choose to go on strike," the statement said. "Citywide planning efforts are underway to coordinate continued city services should a strike occur. "

Mayor Wheeler's emergency declaration put a finer point on those preparations, directing the head of the city's Bureau of Emergency Management to "preserve the continuity of essential services to the public," namely by hiring contractors and other companies to do the work and reassigning other city workers as needed, using funds from "any lawful source whatsoever that may be used to protect and promote the public health, safety and welfare from the threats to the public health and environment."

According to city officials, Portland's latest offer is a four-year agreement of over $39 million, including a minimum 12% increase to the base wages for all PCL-represented workers by July 1. About 60% of those workers would also receive "additional market-wage pay increases."

Portland City Laborers have planned a gathering in Terry Schrunk Plaza outside City Hall on Saturday between noon and 3 p.m. to publicly demand that the city meet their needs.

"We view this contract as an opportunity for the City to honor the sacrifices of workers who have shown up through recent years of crisis," the union said. "Additionally, money spent on the PCL contract is a sound financial investment. It resources necessary work that provides real value for the people of Portland. Without that investment, it is likely that the City will see substantial costs associated with the inability to recruit and retain the people needed to avoid catastrophic failures."

The union's statement did not mention specific sticking points that have dragged out the negotiations thus far.

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