True story: what on-call workers can get in a contract

Did you know that some on-call workers at Multnomah County are already organized in labor unions, and have successfully bargained for pay increases, paid holidays, benefits, and hiring preferences in their contracts?  

The union gave us that edge.

On-call juvenile custody services specialists in the Department of Community Justice were inspired to organize with AFSCME Local 88-6 (an affiliate of Local 88, which bargains a separate contract) when they realized that permanent workers were getting cost of living increases. On-call workers were left out, and over several years, their wages remained stagnant. Eventually, full- and part-time permanent workers at step one of the pay scale were making $2 to $3 more per hour than on-call workers.

Seeing a need for solidarity, on-call worker Kim Nguyen contacted AFSCME and helped to initiate an organizing campaign. All but a couple of the 70 on-call workers signed union authorization cards. Management didn’t argue; they agreed to bargain with on-call and permanent workers as a single union. As you know, that’s very different from management’s current stance on recognizing on-call and temporary workers together with other represented workers in Local 88.

. . . the most rewarding part about joining the union is the recognition that on-call staff make major contributions to the organization. . .


In their first contract, in 2014, on-call juvenile custody services specialists secured wages equal to step one of the pay scale used for permanent full- and part-time juvenile custody services specialists.  They also gained five annual paid holidays and — perhaps the most important gain of all — won the right to apply for internal recruitments. That means on-call workers have the same rights as represented workers to apply for permanent or temporary job openings in their classification.  

In their second contract, ratified in 2016, on-call workers successfully bargained for an additional paid holiday and a cost of living increase — and they won retroactive pay for the cost of living increase.  During this round of contract negotiations, the county made an offer to increase on-call workers’ pay in lieu of offering health benefits. Kim Nguyen, who was at the bargaining table, says that management explained that they were required by state law to offer health benefits to represented employees.  The final contract agreement included a $1.50 per hour pay premium in lieu of full health benefits — an increase from the county’s initial offer of $1 per hour.

With every round of bargaining, juvenile custody services specialists are organizing to advocate new gains for on-call workers.  They are currently negotiating their next contract, and a key proposal is to add step increases for on-call workers: one step for every 2,080 hours worked.  

Kim says that although on-call juvenile custody services specialists began their organizing over pay inequities, the benefit they value most is the ability to apply for internal recruitments in the same way that permanent workers can.  “The union gave us that edge,” she says. Preference in hiring is “more important than any wage increase.” Since the first contract in 2013, Kim explained, every new permanent employee has been hired from the pool of on-call workers.

On a personal level, Kim says, “the most rewarding part about joining the union is the recognition that on-call staff make major contributions to the organization, and therefore we gain the respect that goes with the work.”

On-call juvenile custody services specialists worked together, listened to each other’s needs, and found common ground so that they could fight for a fair shake in their workplace.  We can do it too!

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