Gracey Zhang

The city's largest group of unionized employees is ready to walk off the job.

In a vote tallied this evening, employees represented by the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) voted to potentially strike as early as November 3, if an ongoing contract dispute with the City of Portland hasn't been resolved.

According to Rob Wheaton, an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) representative who bargains on behalf of the DCTU, 702 members voted to strike, with 76 members against. There are 1,043 employees in the bargaining unit, Wheaton said.

The DCTU is made up of six public-employee unions. Its members range from parking enforcers, to water bureau employees, to permit inspectors, to police records staff.

As the Mercury recently reported, the DCTU and the city have clashed over a number of provisions while negotiating a new three-year contract. The city wants to alter a policy for awarding promotions (which it says will encourage more diversity) and require employees to get periodic physicals in order to keep health care costs down. The DCTU has resisted those ideas, and is asking for across the board raises the city's been unwilling to agree to.

A "final offer" [PDF] the union group offered up earlier this month would cost the city an additional $51.6 million over three years compared to the current deal, according to a cost analysis the DCTU submitted. The city's final offer would cost a little more than half that.

It's been 16 years since a strike among City of Portland employees, and even that was an incredibly brief affair. According to news reports from 2001, there was confusion in the ranks about whether a strike was formally under way or not, but some workers walked off the job. The matter was settled in under a half-hour.

This could be a bigger deal—or it could be nothing at all. Under state labor law, the unions can't strike until early November. The city and DCTU bargain teams are planning to meet prior to that, according to Wheaton.