PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Ryan Kenworthy joined other city workers walking a picket line at the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant Saturday, the third day of a strike by hundreds of workers looking for a new contract.
Kenworthy, who works in sewer repair, echoed the thoughts of many striking workers when he spoke with KOIN 6 News.
“The general consensus among us is that we all have an important job. We’re trying to make the city a better place and do our job,” he said. “Being out here on the strike line, we’re not doing that. We’re just waiting.”
While negotiations took place on Saturday, there was no word on any agreement or any progress.
On Friday, city leaders told KOIN 6 News they proposed a retroactive cost-of-living increase of 5% on top of a 1% raise for every union worker. Another cost-of-living adjustment of 5% would be given this summer along with another 1% pay hike.
Kenworthy and others hope negotiations leads to a new deal.
“We’re trying to stick together. The strike has been hard on everybody. We all want to go back to work. We all are hoping they can agree on a contract,” he said.
Jamie Doscher, the president of Oregon Laborers Local 483, said everyone is grateful for the community support and that morale among the strikers is good.
The strike, she said, “is a safety issue and it’s also financial. The city is offering, they say they’re offering 12%, which is a lie. It’s 5% COLA and 1% increase,” Doscher told KOIN 6 News. “I believe we’re asking a little bit higher to match the actual COLA, 3-4% raise and 5% COLA.”
The community support so far is helpful, she said.
“People are finally realizing how important the work is that our workers do — PBOT, BES, Parks, Rangers, the safety of parks. These workers are really crucial. It’s time to start paying them.”
“Most of us do not live in the city of Portland — I live outside it — because we, frankly, can’t afford to live in this city,” union rep Will Tucker told KOIN 6 News. “We work here, we take care of the community, we cannot afford to live here.”
Tucker said the nearly $11-an-hour difference between private industry wages and what the city is willing to pay makes it difficult for his millwright crew to keep employees.
A 17-year city worker veteran, Tucker said he’s seen his team go from “city heroes” during the pandemic to fighting for fair wages.
“They listed us as heroes, that we were doing great,” he said. “We took concessions to help the city out during COVID because they were hurting for money. And now here we are at contract negotiations and what they’ve offered does not even keep up with the actual cost of living.”
City leaders said at this time the strike is not affecting essential city services.
The strikers all want to get back to work, Kenworthy said.
“We’re the front line workers that have to go and clean the city up and deal with all the problems of our infrastructure. And we just want a good contract, with cost-of-living, to move forward. We’re all eager to go back to work,” he said.
More strike events are expected on Sunday as the first city workers strike in many years continues in Portland.