Labor takes step to become 'Union City'

PORTLAND, OR -- The Northwest Oregon Labor Council took a giant first step toward becoming an AFL-CIO-recognized "Union City" with a planning session July 7 that drew more than 30 affiliates.

The day-long meeting produced three proposals that will be considered by the labor council's Executive Board. They revolve around organizing, membership mobilization and communication.

"This is a big step in the right direction to get Union City status," said Jean Eilers, AFL-CIO state director for Oregon.

Union Cities is an eight-step organizing and mobilization plan designed by the national AFL-CIO to help make communities a better place to live and work.

The program focuses on organizing, taking on anti-union employers and politicians with public demonstrations, reaching out to community allies to promote worker- and family-friendly economic development strategies, and building grass-roots lobbying and political action committees to work on local issues.

"If we don't change our direction, we're liable to end up where we are headed," said Margaret Hallock, director of the Labor Education and Research Center of the University of Oregon who, along with professor Barbara Byrd, facilitated the discussion.

In Oregon, unionized workers make up 18 percent of the workforce -- down from 24.5 percent in 1984. To increase membership by just one percent Oregon unions will have to bring in 56,000 new workers next year, Hallock said.

The goal of the national AFL-CIO is an annual membership growth rate of three percent by 2000. To accomplish this the national labor federation is encouraging local unions and central labor councils to spend more money on organizing and to team up in coordinated organizing campaigns.

The Northwest Oregon Labor Council's (NOLC) Executive Board, which encompasses Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington and Columbia counties, soon will meet to make appointments to its Organizing and Community Affairs committees. It also will explore ways to implement "Street Heat" -- finding and communicating with activists from among its 460 delegates who can be ready on short notice for demonstrations against employers and politicians.

If the Union City plan comes together, one of the first steps taken will be to ask local government bodies such as the Portland City Council, Metro and county commissions to pass resolutions supporting the rights of workers to organize.

"NOLC is the hammer that brings the locals together and links allies," said Mark Splain, western regional director of the AFL-CIO, who participated in the planning session. A Union City designation from the AFL-CIO brings extra consideration for labor federation resources, including media campaigns, investments and special programs. Eilers said the Lane County Labor Council recently passed a resolution endorsing the Union City philosophy and held a planning session July 15.

The labor council has joined with the Eugene-Springfield Solidarity Network and several unions -- both AFL-CIO affiliates and independents -- to form the Lane County Organizing Project, which will coordinate organizing drives in Lane County.

Eilers said the Marion-Polk-Yamhill and Linn-Benton-Lincoln Labor Council also are exploring the Union City concept.


July 18, 1997 issue

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