Every month, over coffee in a conference room at the East Portland Neighborhood Office (EPNO), a dozen neighborhood association chairs get together to compare notes on dry topics like land use planning, neighborhood grants, and the city budget.
The meeting gets interesting, though, when the city's two East Portland crime prevention coordinators show up to dish out crime stats and trends—like how many car prowls happened in the past month, or whether cops have caught the person responsible for a streak of burglaries.
At the February 7 EPNO meeting, however, the coordinators— there are 11 spread throughout Portland, who act as liaisons between neighbors and cops, doing things like organizing block watches and responding to major incidents like neighborhood shootings—were absent. They sent a letter, instead, and a sheaf of crime stat printouts—a move that irked the neighbors, who expect face time with actual city staffers when it comes to crimes that affect their neighborhoods.
But thanks to a new labor agreement—the coordinators are members of AFSCME Local 189—the coordinators no longer have as much flexibility to attend after-hours neighborhood meetings. Last November, AFSCME rescinded a "letter of agreement" with the city that allowed the coordinators to build their own schedules, working whichever hours they liked in a 40-hour workweek. If they had to work late one day to attend a nighttime meeting, explains Crime Prevention Program supervisor Stephanie Reynolds, they could work less hours the next day to make up for it.
Not anymore. "It's the union's stance right now that they do not like alternative work schedules," Reynolds explains. Now, the coordinators' contract calls for a more standard, nine-to-five style work schedule.
That's only fair, says AFSCME's James Hester, who explains that the coordinators had been working long hours, but "weren't being compensated for it."
But most neighborhood meetings are at night. "We're especially concerned about their attendance at evening meetings because that's where the action is," says Cece Hughley Noel, head of the Southeast Uplift neighborhood coalition. Mark Seiber—head of the Neighbors West/Northwest group—agrees: "It's important to us that we have complete evening coverage, and there is a real concern about that being met."
Reynolds points out that the coordinators can request overtime or comp time—which lets them take time off later—if they need to hit an evening neighborhood meeting. So far, she says, that system is working out fine—though her department has a small overtime budget, she's been able to approve most of the requests. The coordinators "are not not going to meetings," she says. "I don't think the community is noticing any difference." (She also notes that the coordinators missed the February 7 EPNO meeting due to other conflicts, not the labor agreement).
Indeed, the coordinators "have continued to keep up with the same level of service to us," Hughley Noel says. "[But] the potential is great that this will not continue to be the case."
Hester says it's up to the city to make sure those neighborhood meetings are covered: "The city needs to fund the Office of Neighborhood Involvement [which contains the crime prevention program] properly, and hire enough people to do the work properly," he says.