In light of Coraggio Group’s recent recommendations that an entire union worker division, FREDS, be cut on the basis of Coraggio Group’s failed research methodology, our union is conducting a series of Meet FREDS interviews, to give a human face to an anti-worker proposal, and to allow a better understanding of the essential work our Local 88 FREDS members do for Multnomah County. This is the first installment.
Q. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me today Keith, I’m sure there’s a lot going on with you now. FREDS is part of DCM along with Facilities and IT, but has a little bit of a different structure from those groups too. Can you tell us about what your role is at work? How long have you been with the county?
A. Thanks for inviting me and allowing me to describe my duties/position, and express my views on this current situation. I will be coming up on 15 years in November with the county in this position, and prior to that it was 10 years with the Port of Portland. I’m assigned to the Downtown Motor Pool. Our client base are employees who are required to use county vehicles to perform their job. Their clients are located throughout Multnomah, Washington,Clackamas, counties and beyond. We’ve had cars go as far as Pendelton, OR. Seattle, WA. and Seaside/Astoria, OR.
We deal with several departments throughout the county including: HD,DD,ASD,PG,EASA,FM,DA,LIB,MCSO,CHAIRS,ACJ/ DCJ departments, as well a host of other departments. A major part of our job is to take phone reservations and assign vehicles to our clients. We also do light upkeep work (lights, wiper blades, oil, gas, winterizing, flat repair, roadside assistance, etc.),wash/clean vehicles,ordering fuel,schedule and transport vehicles to the shop(s) for maintenance. I’m also certified/trained for emergency fuel spill response (DEQ), fire extinguishing,CPR, first aid, and the national Highway Watch program. We do all the associated administrative paperwork, as each vehicle is charged back to the client’s department. We utilize a computer program called “Fleet Anywhere” to charge back the department for use of the vehicle. We enter the date of use, person’s name, cost center, department, division, vehicle license plate, the time the vehicle was checked in and out, and beginning and ending mileage. There are several screen pages associated with each entry, and it’s quite a lot of data entry per vehicle. I’m also personally responsible for the smaller fleet at the Multnomah Building, and take care of the paperwork,light maintenance, and routine cleaning of those vehicles as well. We also manage assigned parking and short term visitor parking downtown at the DTMP (Down Town Motor Pool), that we have to monitor as well. Employees can pay monthly fees to park their personal vehicles downtown. Short term visitor parking is charged to the parkers department via cost center. This information is entered via an Excel spreadsheet. The Health Dept has assigned 4 slots for in and out use, along with ACJ for their arrest vehicles. The remaining slots are paid for by employees for personal use. We have to ensure those double parked vehicles are unblocked at the end of the each business day. It’s definitely a multi-faceted operation, and there are only a staff of two FTE’s at this location.
There are days we send out 75+ vehicles out of a existing fleet of less than 45, so it can be a complex game of chess to make sure everyone who signs up for a car, gets one. The DTMP trailer (office) was originally supposed to be there only temporarily and a permanent structure was supposed to be built in it’s place. But, was never gotten around to. Possibly a cost savings measure? It’s really quite primitive, as there is no potable water and only have a “Porta Potty” to use around the back, but we carry on. There is no on-site garage or shelter, so we are exposed to the elements year-round to perform our duties.
Q. FREDS is an important part of the county, and is known for having a high percentage of union members who have more qualifications and certifications for their jobs than non-union counterparts in the private sector. FREDS also has a high retention rate now. How did you come to work at FREDS, and has working for the county been a rewarding experience for you?
A. I had a similar position in the Port of Portland with a much smaller motor pool, and a friend of mine in Facilities told me about the position. Despite heavy in-house competition I got in, and I absolutely love working for the county. It’s been a great and rewarding experience for me throughout the years. I believe the consistent work routine is what I really enjoy. We (co-worker Mark and I) both have a good (although sometimes misunderstood) sense of humor, and we try not to take ourselves too seriously.
Q. The Coraggio Group’s recommendation to cut FREDS was based on their belief that FREDS is not valuable enough to the county. Given the human value our members in FREDS bring to the county, how would you respond to that? How do you think contracting out to non-union workers who don’t have the strong background and experience that you and your coworkers have will impact the county?
A. Well we’ve been getting lots of feedback from our clients wondering how
they will be able to perform their duties without us and a motor pool. A lot of their duties are either state, Federal or county mandated, and our service isn’t just limited to Multnomah county; we send cars out to Pendleton, Seattle, the Coast. They have to serve a lot of rural areas that are well outside the metro area. Their clients don’t have the means to look for alternate providers nor are they able to transport themselves downtown. A lot of our clients (county) can’t afford to park downtown. It’s now approaching $200 a month to park, so it’s a definitely a huge cost factor. – It would be convenient if, as the Coraggio group suggests, you could drive your own vehicle to work and get reimbursed by the county, but it’s unrealistic, as a large majority ride Trimet/MAX to work. We ARE supposed to think and act “green” these days, aren’t we? The Motor Pool has a two hour directive, where we must provide a vehicle within 2 hours of notification, and we have a 99.9% success rate.
I seriously doubt if any outside vendor could provide this level of customer service. I believe that a third party or outside vendor simply cannot understand the scope of how the county does business, and how occasionally you will get a last minute crisis calls from clients who need a car RIGHT NOW. Our response time and track record has been very good. We can always attempt to shuffle reservations around and find a car for a client who has an emergency. Again,it’s a very complex chess game to make sure everyone get their vehicle when they want it, and for the most part we can accommodate most clients. – I firmly believe an outside vendor will not have the flexibility, availability, or know how to do so. Confidentiality and safety is a huge issue, and another reason why maintenance should stay an “in-house” county job. It’s huge that you have a trusted, well qualified and trained county employee working on your vehicle. That’s a major concern expressed with people in law enforcement. “We need to have a county shop work on county vehicles, not an outside vendor.” Parole Officers and prosecutors have stepped forward about this. We have senior people form the Sheriff’s office come in and trusting us – they have grave concerns about what can be done to vehicles after it’s discovered that it’s a county vehicle or a law enforcement vehicle.
Q. A major issue with the proposed FREDS cuts have been the uncertainty of it – FREDS workers were told their jobs would be gone, then told they may not be, then told the cut date was pushed back, then told certain jobs might be safe. From the perspective of someone who works in FREDS, what has the experience of all this coming to a head been like for you? How does this effect your non-work life?
A. From the get go it was incredibly shocking. It happened on my birthday! I basically had three managers come in and say the department will no longer be functioning on July 1st, so you need to find another job immediately because you will no longer have one. The whole thing has been incredibly stressful at work and in my personal life, and being so close to retirement (under two years, and counting). How everything’s been handled (or not), rumors, misinformation to no information. Our union’s first FREDS Report was the most we’ve heard of anything. We’ve been kept in the dark, there’s so many back room rumors and anxiety, and very little been coming from Management. Until recently, we have little to no information besides what Local 88’s been giving us. The entire process has been confusion and frustration on our side, the front line workers are being fueled by rumors rather than decisions or facts, and it makes for an unhappy, unproductive and unmotivated workforce. There’s no real > solid reporting from Management, and it’s frustrating to hear from different departments that have been told entirely different things from our Management. The stream of information is just very scattered. Other departments strongly believe what their manager’s are saying, and it’s like wait a minute, we have direct contact with our management team and that’s not what we’ve been told.
Q. The Coraggio Group recommends cutting the entire FREDS department, and after researching their flawed methodology our union found analytical data that fiscally doing this would be detrimental to the county. There is another side to the detriment that it would cause though, the human effects. What would it mean for the families of members in FREDS to lose so many jobs?
A. That’s going to personally impact all of us and the communities we serve tremendously. Some of us may sadly end up being part of that community which the county serves. Basically the premise or belief of a county job, is that you feel that you are providing an essential service to the community, as well as abiding by Multnomah county’s mission statement/directives. You feel that you pretty much have a position for life (provided you perform your duties well) and you dedicate yourself to that position and it’s duties. To have that just pulled out from you suddenly because of a report commissioned from an outside consortium, seems backwards at best. Much grief along huge costs could have been easily averted. In reality, if the Chair had gone to the front line staff and asked how we could save money within the county itself, I’m sure we would’ve come up with far more effective cost cutting ideas that could bring our overall expenses within the Chair’s budget. The county is full of creative, outstanding thinkers, and I’m sure alternate, meaningful solutions could have been brought forth to actually save money instead of costly reports, and unnecessarily gutting an entire department. Unfortunately, my overall feeling is that this whole thing was handled badly from the start, and now we have to “reverse engineer” everything to bring the kind of results the Chair wants. Management and staff should’ve been asked how can we, in your own department or division, make your own cost cutting measures to keep our department within budget. The Coraggio Group had previously done a report for the State of OR. and recommended that they cut their entire Motor Pool along with mechanical/fleet services and privatize it with a third party operation. The state did cut their Motor Pool and fleet services, but are now coming to Multnomah county for service. They didn’t go to a private service provider, they came to the county – because we provide an unmatched level of security, cost effectiveness and priority service.
Q. How do to think Management has been handling the cuts? There have been numerous reports out of FREDS of misinformation and a lack of cohesive messaging from Management, is that your experience? Do you feel that the feedback they sought from FREDS members has been valued?
A. What feedback? My answer is a big resounding ‘NO’. It has been not so much misinformation, but a total lack of information about how things have been done or are proceeding. Only very recently have we been receiving any communication from higher ups. We haven’t really received any solid information, but we get little glimmers of what is slated to happen. It isn’t very firm, and it doesn’t make you feel like a valued employee to be kept in this realm of unknowns – People have asked “how am I supposed to do the best job if I’m not sure if I’m going to be here today or tomorrow, and nobody tells you what’s going on?” We automatically do our best, but it doesn’t feel good to be kept out of the loop and rely on rumors and misinformation. I wish management would be more upfront with information they have and allow us to interpret it as we see fit – just give us factual data that we can form our own judgements on. At least knowing something is better than not knowing anything at all.
Q. Thank you for taking the time to talk about FREDS today, it’s essential to stay mobilized and empowered when we have a fight like this in front of us. Is there anything else you’d like to say to the county, or additional words of encouragement for your coworkers?
A. Everyone needs to keep their heads up, and continue to perform their duties to the best of their ability. We have the finest union representation, and representatives, along with factual, expert “real world” data to present to the Chair. I strongly feel that this case will wash over, and the best case scenario for our department and the county WILL prevail. You simply cannot base the wide range of services the county provides
to our communities on flawed numerical data. It all comes down to the human factor, which I feel the Coraggio report totally left out.