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Hundreds of Portland parks, wastewater, transportation workers to strike next week

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued an emergency declaration which allows the city to hire replacement workers with emergency funds as the sides negotiate over pay.

PORTLAND, Ore. — More than 600 Portland workers in the wastewater, parks and transportation fields plan to strike next week after failing to agree with the city on a new contract.

In preparation, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued an emergency declaration which allows the city to hire replacement workers with emergency funds as the sides negotiate over cost-of-living increases and raises.

The strike is set to begin on Thursday morning. The city and workers' union — Laborers' Local 483 — both said the two sides failed to agree to new contract terms after 10 months of negotiations.

James O'Laughlen, a former wastewater operator who's now working as a field representative for the union, said if 630 specialized trade workers strike starting on Thursday, the Portland community will notice.

"It's going to be a huge challenge for the city to find people that can replicate the work our folks do," O'Laughlen said. "Things break, all the catastrophic failures that we face routinely that get addressed, they're not going to be fixed. Sewer lines, pump stations, city infrastructure, crises in the parks."

O'Laughlen listed the groups of types of workers that are planning to go on strike. They include:

  • About 280 Bureau of Transportation workers, from concrete finishers to asphalt rakers to utility workers
  • About 200 Parks & Recreation workers, from park technicians and turf technicians to horticulturalists and park rangers
  • About 100 Bureau of Environmental Services workers, namely sewage and wastewater employees
  • Other city employees, including fleet and vehicle workers

Wheeler's emergency declaration says the city is preparing to hire contractors to ensure the 'continuity of services' as the city respects the right of workers to strike.

The city and the union are at an impasse over pay— specifically, cost-of-living increase and raises that reflect rising inflation.

Portland said it is offering a 12% wage increase to these workers by July, with half of that retroactive to 2022. This increase includes a 5% cost-of-living increase for each year.

The union, however, wants the city to remove the annual cap of 5% for cost-of-living increases.

O'Laughlen pointed to Bureau of Labor Statistics data that shows inflation rose between 6 and 8% each of the last two years.

"We can't have our people take pay cuts based on inflation after the way they showed up for the city through the pandemic and its related crises, they're just not going to do it," he said. "We're going to lose people at a rate that exceeds the challenges with vacancies, recruitment and retention the city already faces."

O'Laughlen said matching cost-of-living increases to inflation increases is the "absolute minimum" that workers are expecting out of future negotiations.

The city and union reps held negotiation sessions on Friday.

The city reports it's also offerring healthcare improvements, increased hours for seasonal workers and other concessions.

The Portland City Laborers' union is holding a rally on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. in front of Portland City Hall.

The City of Portland has declined interview requests on the topic.

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