East County Health Center workers say benefits imperiled by contract that expired June 30.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Local 88 negotiator Eben Pullman (far left) addresses a crowd of union medical workers on Friday, Nov. 3, at the East County Health Center. Public employees in Gresham walked out during their lunch break Friday Nov. 3, to protest an unsigned labor contract for their union.

Haggling between Multnomah County and Local 88 has dragged on since last year's contract expired on June 30, though the current language stays in effect until it's replaced.

"The contract is important because we need our health benefits to stay, especially because I'm pregnant," said Giselle Olazabal, who is expecting a boy.

The 29-year-old medical assistant was joined by roughly 30 employees at the East County Health Center at 600 N.E. Eighth St.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Union members held signs provided by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees during the walk out, which occurred during workers' lunch break. Workers chanted slogans in English and Spanish, including "El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido" (The people, united, will never be defeated) and "Aqui estamos y no vamos" (Here we stand and we're not moving).

Union negotiators say the contract is hung up because county leaders want employees to cover 7 percent of their health care premiums, instead of the 5 percent that's currently required.

"The biggest problem is they want us to pay for it!" megaphoned Chief Negotiator Eben Pullman during a rousing speech.

Multnomah County argues the proposal will be cost neutral, because staff would get an extra $360 each year, and have access to a free yearly checkup.

Administrators have tentatively conceded to a maximum payout of $500 if employees are exposed to bed bugs on the job, and say they will add rules barring micro-aggressions — usually defined as subtle actions that create a hostile environment for minority groups.

Union negotiators also want to see more people of color on hiring boards, and more transparency after hiring decisions. For instance, Pullman says that after one woman of color was passed over for a better job, she was told it was because of her posture.

"Multnomah County loves to talk about (its diversity), but at the same time they're not giving us a seat at the table," added Zev Nicholson, a strategic alliance coordinator for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Medical assistant Josefa Gonzalez leads chants in Spanish and English on Friday, Nov. 3, during a walk out protesting the unsigned contract for members of Local 88. Though both sides appear confident a settlement will be reached, labor reps and county leaders have upcoming bargaining dates scheduled through December.

"Multnomah County supports employees organizing and expressing themselves," noted spokeswoman Julie Sullivan-Springhetti in a statement.

"While this part of the process can feel frustrating because we don't have a settlement, we have reached agreement on many issues and are optimistic about the ones remaining," she continued. "We're looking forward to our next talks."

Local 88 represents approximately 3,200 workers, including road and bridge workers, animal shelter workers, parole and probation officers, juvenile councilors and members of the finance department.

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