A Portland Water Bureau worker working on an outdoor construction project
Portland Water Bureau is one of the many city bureaus staffed by members of DCTU. Portland Water Bureau

A union representing more than one thousand city of Portland workers reached a contract agreement with the city Wednesday, narrowly avoiding a strike that was set to begin Thursday morning. The union approved a contract that they previously rejected, arguing that the city wasn’t fairly compensating workers for cost of living increases.

“Over 40% of our members still wanted to strike,” union president Rob Martineau told the Oregonian. “That, to me, shows how many of our members did not want this agreement.”

The District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) is a conglomeration of several unions representing about 16 percent of the city’s workforce. Many of DCTU’s 1,200 members work for the Portland Water Bureau, Portland Bureau of Transportation, Development Services, and Portland Police Bureau as non-sworn staff. The impacts of a strike would have been felt across nearly all the city departments as offices lost their administrative staff, building inspectors, water filtration experts, records keepers, and accountants.

DCTU declared an impasse in contract negotiations with the city on December 13 after the city refused to budge on wage increases. The city offered DCTU workers a 1.6 percent cost-of-living raise that would be paid retroactively to July 1, 2021 and an additional 5 percent cost-of-living raise that would go into effect on July 1, 2022.

Martineau told the Mercury in January that the city’s proposed wage increases didn’t account for the national inflation rate which rose by more than 6 percent over the last year alone. Martineau also noted that DCTU agreed to take additional furlough days and pause cost of living wage adjustments in March 2020 as the city braced for pandemic-related economic losses. Those sacrifices, according to Martineau, weren’t being fairly recognized by the proposed contract and the city was losing union workers to private companies who paid more competitive salaries.

The city reiterated its final offer last week, adding a 2 percent raise in the fourth year of the contract on top of the existing cost-of-living raises. This time, 58 percent of DCTU members voted to accept the city’s proposed contract, according to a final tally of the votes Wednesday morning. According to Martineau, the contract brings city workers up to a fair living wage, but does not address staff retention concerns.

“While this agreement meets the goals of our union by not falling behind, we are disappointed in the City’s lack of leadership in addressing the overall staffing problem,” Martineau said in a press release. “With no plan or vision on how best to restore full resources and services to those that live in the City of Portland, understaffing will continue to plague our city services.”

A joint statement from Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland City Commissioners said the contract agreement showed a "commitment to being responsive to what we heard."

"We remain incredibly grateful to DCTU employees and the many ways they enrich our city," the statement said. "Most importantly, [the contract] reflects our shared goals for a thriving city, where everyone feels safe, heard, and valued by their government."