Over 600 City of Portland maintenance and operations workers ended their three-day strike Sunday after reaching a tentative contract agreement with the city. Despite the city giving a final offer early last week, members of the worker’s bargaining team said they were able to secure higher cost of living increases and other contract benefits after critical workers started picketing.
City workers and other public sector union members held a rally Sunday evening to celebrate the tentative agreement and conclusion of the strike.
“It’s almost as if strikes work,” Hannah Winchester, a member of Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, said to a round of cheers. “Isn’t that the damndest thing?”
Portland City Laborers (PCL), a subset of Laborers International Union of North America Local 483, initiated a strike Thursday, February 2, after trying to negotiate a new contract with the city of Portland for over 10 months. Workers wanted higher guaranteed wage increases and no cap on yearly cost of living adjustments. The city, which said that it didn’t have enough money to meet PCL’s contract requests, countered with a five percent cost of living increase this year and a one percent guaranteed pay increase.
The tentative agreement reached by PCL and the city allows for a five percent retroactive pay increase in July 2022, a five percent increase in July 2023, and cost of living increases based on the Consumer Price Index in 2024 and 2025. All workers will also receive a three percent pay increase and specific workers will receive additional pay adjustments to make their wages competitive with the private sector. The agreement must be ratified with a vote from PCL members as well as approval by Portland City Council to go into effect.
According to Local 483 bargaining member Ben Nelson, the city had given negotiators a final offer the day before the strike, but was willing to make more concessions once over 600 workers walked off the job last week.
“After the strike [started], they were more willing to talk about things,” Nelson told the Mercury. “We were able to meet the next day. It took 12 hours, but we were able to get some movement.”
While union members said they were relieved that a tentative contract had been reached, speakers at the rally Sunday touched on their concerns with the lack of working class representation on City Council and the rising cost of living in Portland.
“We need leaders who are going to value bargaining in good faith,” Janette, a city transportation worker and member of Democratic Socialists of America, said. “Until we get some working class folks on the city council, I’m really worried we’re not going to have that.”
PCL member Will Tucker thanked union members for taking the risk of going on strike, noting that it was an investment in themselves as well as future workers.
“This is a fight so that we can have people live in the city where we work,” Tucker said. “This is a fight so that the jobs will be here for the next generation.”