Since March 2020, Multnomah County has operated a set of social distancing shelters and isolation hotels in order to serve homeless people during the pandemic. These have often been staffed with temporary workers hired as On-Call Staff Assistants. Though on-call employees have been represented by Local 88 since February 2020, the County treated these shelter jobs as non-union positions. This exclusion was frustrating, but legally defensible—at first. The recognition clause of Local 88’s agreement with the County does provide for a narrow exception for those working fewer than 1040 hours, without expectation of continued employment. But as the pandemic stretched on, it became increasingly clear that the need for these shelters would be ongoing.
Council 75 Representative Eben Pullman and Local 88 Shop Steward Kristian Williams raised this issue with the County in June 2020, and the County insisted at the time that there was no plan to continue shelter operations; though, absurdly, neither was there a plan for ending them. In any case, the County refused to recognize the shelter workers as unionized employees covered by the contract. Local 88 then conducted a survey of shelter workers, supplemented by small group discussions, and learned that many workers had been told by their supervisors that the job would continue until the pandemic was over. The union filed a petition with the Employment Relations Board (ERB), and received a favorable ruling; the County appealed but ERB upheld its direction to the County to include all shelter workers in our union.
However, that wasn’t the end of the fight. During the entire period of time the County refused to recognize ERB’s order, it was not compensating shelter workers in accordance with the contract, so we pursued a grievance to arbitration to force the County to do what is right. Ultimately the Arbitrator Luella Nelson ruled that the County violated the contract, by not correctly compensating workers and ordered back pay between September 29, 2020 through early December of 2020. Thanks are owed to Council Representative Eben Pullman, Shop Steward Kristian Williams, attorney Lane Toensmeier, and the many workers who participated in this effort.