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The union representing City Council staff is closing in on a tentative agreement with Council management that would enshrine just-cause protections, create a standardized grievance procedure, provide staff with some overtime pay and raise Council staffers’ wages by more than 16 percent over the course of a five-and-a-half-year deal.
Dan Kroop, the president of the Association of Legislative Employees, which represents more than 400 Council member aides and finance analysts, told The Chief Monday that the union is “hopefully on the cusp of a deal,” the framework of which could be finalized at a Wednesday bargaining session.
“We are in a place that is for a lot of people going to be transformational,” Kroop said of the potential deal. “The ending of at-will employment, the ending of poverty wages, the introduction of just-cause protections and the introduction of more livable wages is going to be a sea change at the City Council and actually help us do a better job for the city and the people we serve. [The potential deal] will give people more time, reduce the burnout and reduce the turnover at the City Council.”
‘Strongest contract of its kind’
The deal would be a first for Council staff who organized with ALE. The staffers announced that they were organizing an independent union in 2019, asked for voluntary recognition in January 2020 and received that recognition in August 2021 after the Office of Collective Bargaining certified the union.
ALE has been negotiating with Council management for nearly two years and if its bargaining committee reaches a tentative agreement, it will become only the second unionized group of legislative workers anywhere in the country to secure a deal. Oregon’s state legislative staff is the first, having ratified a contract in November.
“A deal would be the largest and strongest contract of its kind for legislative workers in the country,” Kroop said. “Hopefully, this will become a template for other unions to build on and ... make some really strong contracts for legislative workers.”
Legislative workers in the New York State Senate and Assembly are also organizing a union.
A Council spokesperson noted Monday evening that while the Council speaker, as the daughter of two union workers, is an unwavering supporter of organized labor, details of any forthcoming agreement would be brokered among the parties and not in public.
“The Council continues to negotiate with the ALE in good faith at the bargaining table, not through the media,” the spokesperson said.
Would adhere to DC 37 pattern
The deal, which is still subject to modifications, would adhere to the civilian wage pattern set by District Council 37 and, like that union’s agreement, includes a ratification bonus, is retroactive to 2021 and would expire in 2026. The minimum wage for Council staff would rise to $58,500 in the last year of the contract, Kroop said.
The union had originally pushed for a $75,000 annual salary floor with Council management initially responding with a $44,000 counter. The union has said that 45 percent of Council staffers make less than $55,000.
The settlement also includes options for staff to be compensated for some of their previously unpaid overtime work, which the ALE has said averages about 600 hours a year for each employee.
Kroop explained that staffers who earn below a certain salary will be able to receive compensation for at least 87 hours of after-hours work each year. Union members using these compensatory hours will make time and a half on weekends and Council holidays and their regular pay rate on weekdays.
“That proposal does respect our time in ways that it has never been respected before,” the union leader said.
The potential deal also includes a grievance procedure that, like other municipal unions, would be ultimately run through the Office of Collective Bargaining and independent arbitrators. And, like DC 37’s agreement, the deal is likely to include a labor-management committee that will work to create a flexible work pilot for ALE members.
A revolt from the union members late in 2022 stopped the Council from reintroducing in-person work full time and many staffers still work a hybrid schedule that requires them to be in the office three days a week.
Union will rally
Because the agreement has yet to be finalized, ALE members will rally tomorrow with Council Members Shahana Hanif and Sandy Nurse along with leadership of several unions that have backed the staffers’ cause in the hopes of putting pressure on Council management to finalize the deal the following day.
"We’re trying hard to land what we can under this Council leadership, and we think we're going to have a really strong contract at the end, but it is critical to close the loopholes,” Kroop told The Chief. "Now's the chance for the Council to not just talk the talk but walk the walk on labor rights for its own staff."
Kroop added that it's important to keep up the pressure as the ALE and Council management work out the final kinks of a deal on compensation for overtime work and grievance procedures
“We don’t want to see any staffer left behind as we make history,” said Kroop.
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