Employees at the city of Portland just formed Oregon’s second-largest independent labor union in the state. 

Professional employees of the city voted Tuesday, June 6, to unionize as the City of Portland Professional Workers (CPPW). 

A recent election saw 306 of 385 eligible employees vote in favor of the effort, representing 54% of all eligible employees. Organizers say efforts have been in the making for the past four or five years, spurred in part by salaries that haven’t kept pace with inflation.

“Effectively, our staff for the last three years have been working as hard, if not harder, than anyone else in the city because of inflation,” Connor Anderson, an outreach coordinator with the new union, told the Mercury on Tuesday. “One of the chief motivating factors for many folks is simple pay equity.”

Anderson said the group hopes to begin bargaining in August or September.

The new union represents professional positions, including coordinators, data analysts, policy developers, administrators, financial analysts, multimedia specialists, technology business representatives, and hearings officers. 

The group doesn’t include city commissioners’ direct staffers.

Kari Koch, CPPW organizing committee president, said the new union comprises employees whose expertise helps keep the city functioning. 

“City workers came out strong to say that we want a voice at the table,” Koch stated in an announcement of the new union. “CPPW members hold critical jobs in the city. We keep programs running, turn raw data into meaningful policy options, balance the books, and are helping guide Portland through the charter reform transitions. Our members work hard for the City and now are organizing for the respect we deserve.”

The Professional Workers are among the last city employees to join a union. Other employees are part of larger, national labor groups, Anderson noted. There are more than 700 employees who are now eligible to join the CPPW. 

Robert Pineda, who also serves on the organizing committee, said the city’s other unionized employees were often given more autonomy than professional workers.

“It’s been our members who’ve felt the sting of budget cuts, furloughs, and layoffs first,” Pineda said in Tuesday’s announcement. “While our unionized coworkers got the regular salary increases they deserved, and their rightful seat at the table to negotiate how best to deal with budget cuts, our members were lucky if they got two percent annual performance raises and are often the first ones on the chopping block. No more.”

The city of Portland employees are the latest in a wave of unionization efforts at businesses, restaurants, and nonprofits, small and large. 

In 2021, Burgerville employees signed their first union contract. Eight New Seasons Market locations are now unionized. Workers at Portland and Eugene locations of sporting goods and outdoor wear company, REI, have attempted to unionize, alongside Starbucks employees at a handful of Portland cafes, with mixed success.