Digest: Monday, January 10, 2022

DCTU members will vote today on strike for city of Portland employees

The District Council of Trade Unions scheduled a vote on whether to strike for today, which would result in a strike starting January 20 if approved. DCTU also held a rally over the weekend in partnership with Portland Jobs with Justice and Portland Democratic Socialists of America. During the rally, representatives of other unions, as well as community organizations, pledged support for a strike.

Portland’s city commissioners, led by Mayor Ted Wheeler, issued a joint statement mentioning how grateful they are to city employees for persevering through COVID-19, without mentioning the strike specifically. (The statement may have only been given to KATU; I haven’t been able to find it on the city website and other publications report receiving no response from the mayor’s office.) The Office of Management and Finance spokesperson Heather Hafer went further and said “We feel confident that the offer the City has provided the DCTU and its members meets many of the needs raised by the DCTU during the course of these negotiations.” City leadership have been downplaying the potential impact of a strike, including at the Portland Water Bureau, where over half of the bureau’s employees are union members likely to go on strike.

There’s a mediation session scheduled for Tuesday, but a strike seems likely with the distance between the city’s offer of a 1.6% cost-of-living increase, the DCTU’s requested increase of 5%, and predictions that inflation will actually hit 7% by the end of March 2022. From a financial perspective, the full requested increase could be likely be covered, at least in part, by the $62 million budget surplus the city had last year, as well as by avoiding continued increases to the Portland Police Bureau’s budget.

OHA demands fix for high levels of lead in Portland’s water system

The Oregon Health Authority is pushing the Portland Water Bureau to take action on lead found in water samples in homes. Portland is the largest major city that consistently finds high concentrations of lead in water in high risk homes.

The key issue is that water from the Bull Run watershed is naturally corrosive. That water can leach lead out of plumbing and fixtures as it flows through them. This is an on-going problem in Portland and OHA required the water bureau to construct a treatment plant that will remove corrosive elements from Bull Run water before it reaches customers. That plant is expected to begin operations in April (assuming half the staff of the Portland Water Bureau doesn’t go on strike or anything like that). A second filtration system is slated to begin operations in 2027 that would remove microorganisms like Cryptosporidium from Portland water. Cryptosporidium is routinely found in water from the Bull Run watershed, though usually in levels low enough that the Portland Water Bureau does not suggest customers take precautions.

However, lead samples taken in November reached new highs and OHA wants a short-term solution in place until the treatment plant comes online. Out of 104 homes tested, 14 had lead-in-water levels above the level where the Environmental Protection Agency requires corrective action and public notification. Estimates suggest that up to 15,000 homes are at high risk, including those that were built or replumbed between 1970 and 1985 and have copper pipes joined with lead solder. Using hot water from such pipes increases risk. While no levels of lead consumption are considered safe, children have especially critical health risks from lead consumption.

If your home is at high-risk of having lead in the water, consider the following steps:

Portland City Commissioner Mingus Mapps is responsible for the Portland Water Bureau. He has a regularly scheduled town hall and the next one is tonight (Monday, January 10) at 6 p.m, which could be a good opportunity to discuss issues like why the water bureau has waited at least three months to take further action on lead in Portland’s drinking water.

Tribes in southern Oregon ask for racing commission to uphold ban on private casino

TMB Racing is pushing for approval from the Oregon Racing Commission for the installation of 225 “historical horse racing terminals” at its Grants Pass facility, the Flying Lark. The terminals are similar to slot machines. TMB Racing recently filed a lawsuit against the state of Oregon to compel a decision. Travis Boersma formed TMB Racing to restore commercial horse racing in Oregon. Boersma is also the co-founder of Dutch Bros Coffee whose net worth hit $2.3 billion during the company’s IPO. TMB Racing has spent $50 million (or less than 2% of Boersma’s total assets) on restoring the Josephine County race track and building the Flying Lark, following the closure of Portland Meadows in in 2019. The Oregon state legislature has already passed a bill decreasing the Flying Lark’s tax obligations by as much as three-quarters.

One of the key concerns over the proposed gambling facility is that it violates a state ban on private casinos, which Oregon voters confirmed in 2010 and again in 2012. The state constitution allows only tribally-owned casinos. Representatives of the federally recognized tribes that are allowed to operate casinos in Oregon have been asking the state government to take a deeper look at TMB Racing’s proposal since last fall, including requesting Governor Kate Brown to review the process:

We are at a critical moment where the state is about to approve the largest expansion of state regulated gambling in decades without public or legislative input…If something isn’t done, HHRs will arrive in Oregon without any serious discussion of their impacts on the state, on tribes, and the citizens of both.

Given that casinos are a central source of funding for many tribes in Oregon and those funds have lead to demonstrably better outcomes for tribal members, the outcome of TRB Racing’s lawsuit is important to the livelihoods of far more than the 200 employees that may eventually work for TRB Racing or to Boersma’s bottom line.

Furthermore, the ORC is undergoing an audit by Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. In addition to concerns about okaying private casinos, the OFC licenses a number of large gambling companies that operate outside of Oregon (such as Churchill Downs’ off-track operation) that may be violating animal cruelty laws in a variety of states.

By Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram founded PDX.Vote after making numerous zines, newsletters, and other media about politics in Portland, Oregon. Thursday has also written for publications ranging from Autostraddle.com to Entrepreneur Magazine. You can find more of Thursday's work at ThursdayBram.com.