What is a Union?

A labor union is a group of workers who join together to negotiate as one with their employer over hours, wages and working conditions. In Oregon, the applicable law governing public-sector unions is the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (ORS 243.650 – 243.806), commonly known as PECBA. PECBA is administered by the State of Oregon’s Employee Relations Board (ERB). Private sector unions operate under the foundation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) as administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and applicable state laws.

Why would I want to join a union?

Being a union employee means having a collective voice at work in determining wages, hours, schedule, health, retirement and other benefits, paid time off, workplace safety, working conditions, work/life balance and many other things. It also means having rights at work like a respectful work environment, a disciplinary process, and just cause, which means you can’t be fired without reason and due process. Many studies have confirmed over many decades that union employees in both the public and private sectors earn significantly more and have significantly better benefits than their non-union counterparts performing the same work. 

What is a collective bargaining agreement?

Once employees vote to form or join a union, they enter into negotiations with the employer on a collective bargaining agreement, which is just a fancy term for a labor contract. The contract enshrines all details of hours, wages, and working conditions in written form that is legally binding. Labor contracts are typically in force for 3 or 4 years. All current City labor contracts can be found here: https://www.portland.gov/bhr/employee-relations/labor-relations/labor-agreements

Does signing the petition obligate me to anything?

No. Signing the petition only helps us bring this to a vote. Once we have a successful vote (greater than 50% of those who cast a ballot voting ‘yes’) we will ask you, and all non-reps, to join the union and become a dues-paying member. Whether you join as a member or not, you will enjoy the benefits of representation and you will be covered under the terms of the contract we negotiate with the city.

Can we unionize at work?

Yes! Please talk to your coworkers! Unionizing is a protected activity under Oregon law and any form of employer retaliation is against the law. You can talk about unionizing at work in casual conversation just like you can talk about your vacation plans, a Blazer game, politics, whatever. Extensive unionizing activities in the workplace should be limited to your own time (breaks, lunches, and after hours) and using your own resources and equipment.

Will my boss find out that I signed?

No.Not unless you tell them! The process is confidential. Only the CPPW Organizing Committee will know who has signed. Once we have enough signatures to petition the state Employee Relations Board (ERB) for representation, we will submit the original petition sheets to them. The ERB will validate and count the signatures and compare their count to a list provided to them by the City. AT NO TIME will the City, or your manager, receive ANY information about who did or did not sign the petition.

Will I make less money than I make now?

No. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers earn significantly more than their non-union counterparts (here is one current news release on the topic: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/union2.pdf). Our union will negotiate pay scales for each classification that are narrower than the current pay scales and more reflective of the current local labor market. Via annual ‘step increases’ you will get to the top of your range within a matter of years in addition to annual cost of living adjustments. Step increases will replace the merit pay system. Most non-represented employees will never get to the top of their pay range within today’s system. Every wage step in a contract is increased each year by the amount of the cost of living adjustment. Upon contract re-negotiation we will perform a market study to ‘catch-up’ to any market over-performance beyond expectations. The city does this only on an infrequent basis for non-reps today, so pay scales are often out of touch with reality. Lastly, once we vote to establish our union, you are protected by the status quo principal under PECBA, which states that the employer must maintain the same wages, hours, terms, and conditions of employment for represented employees that existed at the time of recognition until a contract has been negotiated and ratified by a vote of members. The employer cannot threaten, promise, or direct deal to make changes that would affect the way things work currently.

Will I lose my flexible work schedule or flexible work location?

No. The status quo principle under PECBA guarantees the City cannot make any changes to hours, wages, and working conditions while a contract is being negotiated. We will negotiate to retain existing flexible work schedules for employees who like their current arrangements, flexible work locations (including fully remote telework from any location), and a demand to bargain to allow for changes to, or new, flexible work schedules and locations for our members.

Will I lose my management leave?

Management Leave is a City policy (HRAR 8.03) that grants up to 80 hours additional paid leave per calendar year to non-reps “who are not eligible for overtime compensation” with the intent to “recognize exceptional additional individual efforts, performance and achievements, including but not limited to beyond the standard workweek”.

We have heard from a number of you who are concerned that, should we unionize, you will lose your management leave benefit. We hear you. And we agree that management leave is wonderful to receive!

But did you know that some non-reps – including high-performers and those working plenty of extra hours – have never received management leave? Many have never even heard of it! Only a lucky few routinely get the maximum 80 hours (though that is becoming rarer by the year). We don’t think that’s fair, and we are confident we can do better.

By joining together as an 800-strong collective bargaining unit, we provide ourselves with choices.

For example, in lieu of management leave, we might choose to negotiate for overtime pay. We may also choose to negotiate for higher paid time off accruals. Or, we could choose to negotiate for a “new and improved” management leave benefit – perhaps with some checks and balances and clear award criteria – that gives all employees an equal opportunity to benefit from the program.

Many City professionals, including Accountants, Engineers, and Business Systems Analysts, have already negotiated for overtime pay at time and a half. They also chose to bank up to 80 hours of that overtime pay as “comp” time. All of your represented colleagues at the City also receive a guaranteed annual raise (“step increase”) that gets them to the top of their pay scale within a reasonable time frame, as well as a guaranteed cost of living adjustment. As a non-rep, there are no guarantees. As recent history has shown, your management leave, merit increase, cost of living adjustment, and other benefits can be cut, capped, or eliminated at any time.

Most importantly, it’s not an “either/or” decision between unionizing or management leave: Voting “Yes” on election day puts us squarely in the driver seat, and puts these choices in our lap.

Why not join an existing union?

We have tried that route twice unsuccessfully since 2019. We feel we have a greater chance of success by forming our own union that understands the specific needs of professional workers at the City of Portland.

Did other unions decline to work with us this time around?

No. Most unions prefer the card check strategy requiring 50%+1 of the eligible population to sign an authorization for representation card to qualify for automatic recognition. Since cards expire after 6 months, 50%+1  is a very high bar and very difficult to achieve compared with our strategy of obtaining a 30%+1 signatures to obtain a secret vote (once we obtain a vote we just need greater than 50% of those who vote to vote “Yes.”)  Additionally, with the turnover inherent in such a large population, 30% actually requires more like 40% and 50% more like 60% to achieve large enough margins to overcome legal challenges to individuals’ or groups of individuals’ right to unionize.

If our petition fails, would we ask another union for help again?

If we do not achieve success we will try again, building off of our base, which is growing with every iteration. The trick is to get well over the 30% threshold within 6 months. If, at any time, our organizing committee votes to go in another direction such as affiliating with an existing union, we will do so. If you would like to have a voice in this and other decisions you are encouraged to join our organizing committee.

Will the union be permanently staffed?

There are no plans to hire permanent staff for the union at this time, and it is not required under the law. However, only time will tell if we can effectively administer the union with volunteer labor. In time, we may find it necessary to permanently staff the union in order to provide good value for our members. However, in order to keep dues at 1% or below, which is one of our values, we will have the minimum paid staff necessary to administer the union efficiently and effectively.

Do I have to pay dues?

No, paying dues is voluntary but encouraged. In 2018, under JANUS vs. AFSCME, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that public employees are not required to become a dues-paying member of the union even while enjoying the benefits and protections of representation afforded under a collective bargaining agreement. However, we believe most represented employees will quickly see the value of becoming a dues-paying member to support their union and make it better able to represent their interests.

How much are union dues?

To keep it affordable while providing great value for our members, we expect to keep dues to not more than 1% of your base wages. For someone earning $80,000 a year, that would be no more than $33 per paycheck. Dues are an investment. One way to think about it is the very first time you avoid a 1% pay cut by joining the union – which happens to non-reps almost every year in one form or another (merit caps, COLA cuts, etc.) – you will have paid for your dues for life. Still skeptical? You can “try before you buy” for as long as you need. Either way you will receive the same great representation and value as dues-paying members, and that is required under the law.

Why are dues necessary and what do they pay for?

To efficiently and effectively run a union we will need some administrative functions and legal aid. For example, for each unfair labor practice petition filed with the state’s employee relations board on behalf of one or more employees, there is a $300 filing fee. We will also have nominal overhead such as computing hardware and software, website hosting fees, mailings, bookkeeping & tax services, space rent for union meetings, etc. Similar to any civic, faith-based, cultural, or professional association, it takes a reasonable amount of funding to keep a union viable. As a local union, our finances will be transparent, and locally elected leadership accountable to the local members they serve. As a non-profit, our finances will be subject to all accounting rules.

How is the organizing committee membership determined?

Any non-represented employee at the City of Portland who is eligible for representation under state law can join the committee at any time and you are encouraged to do so. There is no commitment, we just ask that you do what you can, when you can.

What will our union leadership look like and how will it be determined?

We will have, at minimum, four unpaid positions elected from our membership, including President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. We will hold free and fair elections and any dues-paying member will be able to run for office.