Letter to Chair & Board Regarding Class-Comp Unit

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Ted Wheeler, County Chair
Multnomah County
501 SE Hawthorne Bv Suite 600
Portland, OR 97293

2 June 2009

Dear Ted,

This letter is to inform you of an impossible situation the members of Local 88 were placed in due to a recent classification/compensation study. We made the decision at our May Executive Board (E-Board) Meeting, and in addition voted to share our perspective with you and the Board of County Commissioners.

Background: It is management’s responsibility to classify the work of bargaining unit members; it is the bargaining unit’s rights to negotiate the wages. This process is included in routine negotiations for all the other unions as they represent only a few related classifications; electricians, attorneys, nurse for example. Local 88 represents over 200 separate and different classifications; we have workers in every one of the County’s departments. It is not a simple process to review so many varied and distinct job classifications. Years ago it was mutually agreed to perform studies throughout the life of our contract. That process stopped working over the past three years. Earlier this year we voted to suspend the process, because it works so poorly and created such negative experiences and morale for our members. We are in the middle of discussions with Labor Relations.

The final study we voted upon included 4 classifications.

The Deputy Medical Examiner and Pathologist Assistant who work for the District Attorney and with the State of Oregon’s Medical Examiner’s office. These folks have the critical task of reviewing sites to determine if someone died from natural or unnatural causes, and assisting the Medical Examiner with performing the autopsy to determine the cause of death. They provide their expertise, assistance and support to counties through-out the state.

The Laboratory Specialists and Laboratory Technicians who work in Health Department and are responsible for testing results conducted at the various County medical labs. They have passed specific certifications which allow the County to have its medical programs JACHO approved.

The study results pitted one group of employees against another. Three classifications had their wages reduced; they are “overpaid” according to the market comparisons, two by 6% and one by 9%. One classification had their wages increased, as it was concluded they were being grossly underpaid by 15%, and had been for several years.

We invited the incumbents to speak with the E-board and help problem solve this mess; some from each of the classifications spent their evening with the E-board members. They all shared they didn’t want to harm the other members of the study, but felt the situation impossible and unfair. Several of the members who spoke to the E-board expressed how they felt demoralized by the experience. County management or at least Central HR does not understand or value the work they do – the process was unfair and why was the union putting up with this.

The E-board had two choices vote yes for everyone which results in three groups being reduced and 1 group being increased or to vote no and everything would stay the same, although management could implement the results anyway. Who should we support? The members and co-workers and friends who are underpaid and against the members and co-workers and friends who management states are “overpaid”? Or maybe we should vote for the members who are “overpaid” and against the members who are underpaid? Which hand should I cut off, my right or my left?

We have worked long and hard to improve the Class/Comp process; it is broken and this is just one more example of the problems. We have not been successful in coming to any agreement on improvements and are not willing to continue to ask our members to vote against each other. As long as class/comp is broken, we will continue to have morale issues when the County presents to employees they are not valued because they are “overpaid.”

It is disheartening, that while we can work so well in solving several problems, this issue continues to persist and cause such harm to the members of Local 88.


Becky Steward

C: Deborah Kafoury, Commissioner, District one
Jeff Cogen, Commissioner, District two
Judy Shiprack, Commissioner, District three
Diane McKeel, Commissioner, District four
Local 88 Executive Board