Strike goes on as Friday bargaining stalls

October 21, 2017

Lane County and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees resumed contract negotiations Friday but ultimately left the table without an agreement, ensuring that the strike by more than 500 county employees would enter its first weekend.

County and AFSCME Local 2831 representatives negotiated through a state mediator throughout the day but couldn’t reach a compromise on wage and health insurance terms for a new three-year contract with AFSCME-represented employees.

No additional talks had been scheduled as of Friday evening.

Employees went on strike Wednesday, protesting the county’s offer to raise AFSCME general and nurses’ unit compensation by $8.8 million over the contract. AFSCME argues that the wages offered by the county don’t reflect employees’ market value compared with workers in similar Oregon counties.

As the strike’s third day wore on and workers marched outside Lane County government buildings, county and AFSCME leaders blamed each other for not reaching a deal.

They also tell different versions of how close the sides are to a deal, with the county claiming that the sides still are far apart on dollar amounts, and AFSCME claiming that the most recent offers are within about $2 million of each other. Neither side would discuss details of the negotiations.

Late Tuesday, hours before the strike began, the county said it gave AFSCME what it called an “enhanced offer” that increased compensation beyond its $8.8 million offer.

But on Friday it stuck with the $8.8 million figure. Lane County Commissioner Sid Leiken called it a fair deal that’s consistent with agreements the county reached with its five other employee unions.

“We’re sorry we’re in this position, but at the same time we have a responsibility to the taxpayers of Lane County,” Leiken said, adding that “there doesn’t seem to be an interest to really get to a resolution” by AFSCME.

In a statement, Oregon AFSCME spokesman Ross Grami disputed Leiken’s account of the talks, while blaming county leaders for not being more active in negotiations.

“We believe the gap between the parties to be roughly $1 million over three years for each contract. Their shameful actions are causing harm to vulnerable communities and to dedicated public servants. Our members will stay strong and united.”

The contract proposed by the county will be imposed on AFSCME-represented employees starting Saturday, after commissioners voted this week to give the county administrator authority to implement its terms. The move doesn’t prevent workers from striking or the sides from working toward an agreement.

The last public proposal by AFSCME would raise general and nurses unit compensation by $32.6 million over three years, based on documents it filed with the state Employment Relations Board last month.

That offer would raise general unit pay by an average of 14.8 percent in the contract’s first year and nurses’ unit pay by an average of 19.8 percent. The county’s offer would result in roughly 3 percent increases for both units in the first year.

AFSCME represents 692 Lane County workers, nearly half of the county’s total employee count.

More than 500 of those workers appear to have participated in the strike’s first three days. The county said 140 workers had returned to work as of Friday afternoon.

Also Friday, the county announced the resumption of several services cut when the strike began:

The RiverStone Community Health Center in Springfield will reopen and operate Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Behavioral Health group therapy resumed Friday.

Environmental Health resumed Friday.

Methadone Treatment Program group therapy will resume Monday.

Lane County Special Waste will start setting appointments for hazardous waste disposal.

The Glenwood Transfer Station has increased hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

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