PBOT maintenance staff could strike as soon as next week

City of Portland sweeper operator cleans a bike lane on North Rosa Parks Way. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“We’re making plans to be able to provide core emergency response services, but it will be a challenge without the staff that does the work day in and day out.”

— City of Portland maintenance worker

Labor contract negotiations between the City of Portland and employees represented by Laborers Local 483’s Portland City Laborers (PCL) contract have been underway for months to no avail. Now, citing insufficient concessions from the city, PCL workers have made it officials: they plan to strike as soon as next week.

According to NW Labor Press, 630 parks, environmental services and transportation bureau workers are ready to walk out.

The PCL contract includes Portland Bureau of Transportation maintenance workers who are in charge of street upkeep, striping bike lanes and crosswalks and more. The union says these employees have been working under poor conditions for years now, but the pandemic and subsequent economic inflation exacerbated the situation — and this is getting in the way of their ability to keep up with the very important work of maintaining our streets.

“Union workers under the PCL contract took nearly 2.5 million dollars in concessions at the beginning of the pandemic. They delayed negotiating a new contract for a year to accommodate the City of Portland in its time of need. In response, City decision makers have treated their safety and financial security as a low priority,” a Tuesday press release from Local 483 states. “These workers run our sewer systems, build our roads, maintain our parks, and much more. They are the workers who showed up, in person, throughout the pandemic to keep our City running.”

A Local 483 graphic depicting current pay for PCL members compared to rising inflation.

According to an article posted yesterday by The Oregonian, the City of Portland has proposed a 4-year, $39-million contract with a 12% wage increase by July, which would include a retroactive cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of 5% and a 1% retroactive across-the-board pay raise.

Local 483 says this proposal is inadequate. The union wants a 3.5% across-the-board pay raise for all members and is asking the city to remove its 5% COLA cap, which doesn’t keep up with inflation. Anything less amounts to a “pay cut” under our current 6.5% inflation rate, Local 483 leaders wrote in a December bargaining update.

They’re not buying the city’s excuses for why they can’t meet those demands.

“The City continues to plead poverty. The PCL Bargaining team has been unconvinced by the City’s argument given the facts as we understand them. Portland’s budget assessment process has consistently “found” tens of millions of dollars, every 6 months, for years,” another recent bargaining update states.

As recent BikePortland stories have touched on, the maintenance issues on our streets have become more and more evident recently — especially for active transportation users. From hazardous, invisible ice on the streets and sidewalks to lake-sized puddles in bike lanes, there’s a lot someone walking or biking needs to look out for when trying to get around the city.

PBOT officials cite the bureau’s $4.4 billion maintenance backlog as the reason they can’t get these problems under control, and say they’re working to develop a new funding structure that would allow them to get ahead of it.

But Local 483 leaders say nothing will change until maintenance employees are respected. And if that means going on strike, so be it.

“We view this contract as an opportunity for the City to honor the sacrifices of workers who have shown up through recent years of crisis. Additionally, money spent on the PCL contract is a sound financial investment. It resources necessary work that provides real value for the people of Portland,” the Tuesday press release reads. “Without that investment, it is likely that the City will see substantial costs associated with the inability to recruit and retain the people needed to avoid catastrophic failures.”

“We’re making plans to be able to provide core emergency response services, but it will be a challenge without the staff that does the work day in and day out,” said one maintenance staffer who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity.

Local 483 will hold a gathering for PCL union workers this Saturday, January 28th from 12 to 3 pm in Terry Schrunk Plaza outside Portland City Hall to ask the city to meet their demands. They invite the public to attend and show their support. You can find out more about the event and the PCL bargaining process at the Local 483 website.

(We have also heard that remaining City of Portland non-represented staffers who aren’t members of Local 483 are planning to form a union of their own. According to the website of the City of Portland Professional Workers Union, 321 non-represented city workers have joined so far.)

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blumdrew
blumdrew
1 day ago

Good luck to the workers. It’s weird for PBOT to cry about the “maintenance backlog” in a situation like this – surely a strike would make the backlog worse. If they want to avoid increasing that $4.4 billion, avoiding a strike seems like a good place to start.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 day ago

Is it the money or the management that is the real issue with street maintenance? I mean, we still have rotting leaves from last fall in our bike lanes.

EP
EP
1 day ago

This is definitely fake news. When did that mini streetsweeper ever clean a bike lane? Was this photo from some PR event years ago?!

I’ve thought about setting up a company that gets contracted by the city to clean bike lanes and pedestrian crossings. Not sure how that would really work, but it seems like I could be busy forever…!

Chris
Chris
1 day ago
Reply to  EP

The photo is by Jonathan Maus and has nothing to do with the story. If you are a regular reader you should know by now that photos are selected by BP and charts/photos provided by bureaus are occasionally edited by BP for clarity.

EP
EP
1 day ago
Reply to  Chris

My comment is by EP and has little to do with the story. If you’re a regular reader you should know by now that comments occasionally deviate from the titled subject matter of the story, depending upon other content in said story, often in attempts at humor/irony/whatever that sometimes go unappreciated.

Hotrodder
Hotrodder
1 day ago
Reply to  EP

That’s funny. I think this is Maus’ neighborhood. Probably Hardesty providing a softball photo op when she needed a boost.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Hotrodder

what on earth are you talking about Hotrodder? I was walking my dog and looked up and saw the sweeper working in the bike lane.

EP
EP
1 day ago

Great work catching it in action! I actually saw a larger, ODOT-badged sweeper (parked) ON the 205 path by Gateway Transit Center last year. Clearly doing it’s once-a-year lap of the MUP.

Fred
Fred
1 day ago
Reply to  EP

You nailed it, EP. I have lived in cities where the street sweepers were fitted with GPS trackers, and you could go online and see a real-time map of where the sweepers were and where they had been. In Portland the trackers would show that the sweepers leave the depot maybe once a month, which is why they don’t have trackers – no one wants to be held accountable.

Bring on the professionals in 2025!

Atreus
Atreus
1 day ago
Reply to  EP

I have it on good authority that the mini street sweeper goes out and sweeps pretty much every single night, and then is parked all day in the same location. The crews only do sweeping at night. That’s why some people have claimed, incorrectly, that the sweeper is never used because they always see it parked there during the day.

EP
EP
1 day ago
Reply to  Atreus

It’s great to hear it goes somewhere, but what’s it’s range if it’s always parked in the same location? Do they trailer it places further away? I believe these smaller sweepers need a support truck as well, since the hopper quickly fills with debris.

Fred
Fred
1 day ago
Reply to  Atreus

What’s your “good authority,” Atreus? Why does it have to be a big secret about how sweeping works in Portland? Anyone should be able to see online where every sweeper has been, every day and night. We have GPS trackers and online maps now. The Garmin on my wrist can do it – why can’t the city??

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 day ago

Just think if the politicians were willing to go out and get photo-ops of them with a rake and shovel helping with maintenance how it might become a positive thing.

Nah, won’t happen, fancy gold painted shovels and ribbon cutting for new projects is where the money goes, not un-glamourous maintenance.

Racer X
1 day ago

Need for Emergency Mayoral Order: CoP should contact each property owner / business owner along every street (TV radio advert) communicating that they now are responsible for maintaining clear passage along both their sidewalks AND now vehicle travel lanes. [Kids, back before auto-mobilization, it was very common for local jurisdictions to require property owners to either pay their road tax in money or provide free labor fixing roads.]

Hotrodder
Hotrodder
1 day ago
Reply to  Racer X

Did you know…PDX homeowners are required to remove snow and ice from their sidewalks as soon as it’s reasonably possible after an ‘event’?

My point is, most homeowners ignore the requirements in place now to clear the public row; how would this emo work?

Hotrodder
Hotrodder
1 day ago

Strike or no strike I’m pretty sure anyone who bicycles regularly on PBOT or ODOT controlled infrastructure will see very little change as regards the crud in the lanes between then and now, whether workers get the OK to stage a walkout or if their list of grievances are addressed before the strike date.

pigs
pigs
1 day ago
Reply to  Hotrodder

Funnily enough, Barbur which is controlled by ODOT is pretty well maintained. They’ve swept the bike lanes multiple times this year! When Naito splits off and the PBOT controlled Barbur bike lanes are immediately filled with pureed leaves.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 day ago
Reply to  pigs

Man if you think Barbur is “well-maintained” I have some beachfront property in Bakersfield to sell you.

Fred
Fred
1 day ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I agree, blumdrew, but it’s a real indictment of PBOT that Barbur is actually somewhat less worse than streets PBOT is responsible for.

Jenny the Bike gal
Jenny the Bike gal
1 day ago

Here’s the maintenance PBOT currently does on our bike parking areas. Will we even notice they are on strike?

8834D3CB-8E4A-4ABE-BEB6-25B1F3F905E4.jpeg
Fred
Fred
1 day ago

I support labor – and the right to strike – as much as anyone, but I can’t say I’m worried about the effect of a strike way out here in SW Portland, since we don’t get any maintenance in this part of the city. Bike lanes are swept once in a blue moon, storm drains are never cleared, branches line the sides of roads – the list goes on and on. You can’t miss what you never knew.

I’ve called the maintenance hotline, left messages, etc etc. Nothing ever changes and there’s no accountability.

Nice photo of the mini-sweeper, by the way. I’ve never seen that, either.

Doug Hecker
Doug Hecker
20 hours ago

Would we really notice? I mean, I can’t even get basic people to call me back in a ticket I submitted 2.5 months ago. Based on how long it took them to remove the leaves in the bikes lanes… wouldn’t notice. Yeah, I called and talked to both day and night shift managers and they all say the same thing… short staffed. Jobs not replaced and budgeted out. Both seemed like i people. Too bad the rest seem like robots…

But, I’m all for them getting more and project managers getting less.

John
John
18 hours ago

I wish them the best and I hope they get everything they ask for.