Though many employers, including government employers, profess to support the rights of their employees, their union-blocking actions do not always match up with their enthusiastic claims. Such is the case with the city of Portland, which is seeking to stop its park rangers from unionizing. In this post, we will explore the arguments made by both the city and the park rangers regarding unionization.
An article on the labor news website, LaborPress.org, reports that fifteen park rangers for the City of Portland sought to join local laborers’ union, Laborers Local 483, in April. At the time, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced through a spokesperson that the city supports the rights of Portland employees’ to join unions and that the city would “look forward” to park rangers joining the local labor union. On May 18, however, mere weeks after the mayor’s announcement, the Portland City attorney’s office belied his expression of support by filing documents with the state’s Employment Relations Board that argue the rangers should not be allowed to join of the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU), a multi-union bargaining unit.
Park Rangers Want to Join the Laborers’ Union
Portland City park rangers are considered to be ‘ambassadors’ of the city; as uniformed city patrolmen, they enforce the city’s regulations in Portland’s parks. Despite the importance of this job, however, only four out of the fifteen total park rangers employed by the city are considered permanent employees. The other eleven are classified as “temps” who earn only $11 per hour, are given no benefits, and who are fired after working 1400 hours. By unionizing, these employees had hoped to put themselves into a position to bargain for more permanent positions, as well as benefits.
City Objects to Park Rangers’ Attempts to Unionize
The city of Portland, however, has several objections to the idea of the park rangers joining the laborer’s union. First, the City attorney’s office claims that the ‘temp’ rangers do not belong in the DCTU because, unlike current DCTU members, they do not have any regularity in their work, their employment relationship with the city is only tenuous, and they have no reasonable expectation of permanent employment or benefits. This argument seems rather circular, because those are exactly the reasons that the park rangers want to be unionized in the first place.
Furthermore, the City attorney’s office argues that the park rangers do not belong in the Laborer’s Local 483 because they are more properly classified as security or policing personnel, or community service aides, not as laborers. One of the rangers is even classified as a Community Outreach and Information Assistant – a classification that is non-represented – because he designs fliers. However, one of the permanent park rangers, Sam Sachs, argues that he has never heard of these classifications and that the park rangers are confused as to that classification’s implications.
The City’s final argument, building off the idea that the park rangers are not properly classified as laborers, is that another union – the AFSCME Local 189 – has been trying unsuccessfully to unionize the rangers. The business representative for the AFSCME Local 189 notes that it does not matter to them which unions employees choose to join, but that they do not take direction from the city on such matters. Meanwhile, the business manager for the Laborers Local 483, Richard Beetle, claims that the entire controversy is simply an attempt to keep the park rangers as temporary workers who will have less power vis-à-vis the city.
An administrative law judge will rule in early June on the City attorney’s objections to the park rangers’ attempts to join the laborers’ union. In the meantime, if you or someone you know believes that your employer has interfered with your attempts to unionize, please contact one of our attorneys, who can help you evaluate your claim.