Community Campaign Boosts Portland City Workers
A day before the planned strike by 1,200 City of Portland, Oregon, workers, members accepted the city’s last-minute offer in a 58 percent “yes” vote.
“The vote to approve passed narrowly, making it clear that our members know they deserve more,” says Housing Bureau worker and union organizer Chris Flanary. “Time to reflect on lessons learned, continue to build power with our colleagues, and prepare for the next big fight.”
After an 86 percent strike authorization vote (with 91 percent participation), the city had bumped up its “last-best-final” wage offer, which at impasse had amounted to a 5 percent wage cut.
A community solidarity campaign spearheaded by Portland’s Democratic Socialists of America and Jobs with Justice chapters contributed to building city workers’ confidence and the pressure on the city council.
A PRACTICED CREW
Thanks to DSA members within the six-union coalition of city workers, DSA’s Labor group organized four mass mobilizations, the first three with the co-sponsorship of JwJ and the District Council of Trade Unions.
The local DSA-JwJ strike solidarity crew had honed its rally methods—highlighting workers’ voices, bringing in clergy as a moral voice, and chanting about class-wide demands—in several recent strike or near-strike campaigns: Nabisco, Kaiser, and Kroger (Fred Meyer).
In the 40-day Nabisco strike, the solidarity crew raised $90,000, which allowed the union to double strike pay, helping members to stay out longer; Nabisco had to be hurt in the pocket. The city politicians, on the other hand, had to be convinced that a strike would create chaos and political liabilities. So the DCTU GoFundMe was more an effort to show massive small donor support.
These marches and rallies, plus a robust social media campaign, focused on specific bottlenecks that a strike would cause in water treatment, street repair, housing, and construction. The last march was to the Housing Bureau and Bureau of Development Services, where private construction and housing services workers spoke on the theme, “Maintain essential services! City Council, don’t force a strike!”
GOT THE BUG
Strikers, if they are appropriately engaged with community supporters, often gain a greater sense of being part of a larger working-class struggle. Nabisco strikers and Kaiser health care workers are good examples. They showed up and spoke out at the city worker actions.
The Nabisco union, Bakery (BCTGM) Local 364, went on to spearhead a statewide legislative effort to beat back mandatory overtime. The Kaiser union (Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals) donated $10,000 to DSA to further the strike solidarity movement.
Jamie Partridge is a retired letter carrier, active with Portland DSA and Jobs with Justice.