Senate passes charter school bill; tip-credit lobby challenged

SALEM - The Oregon Senate narrowly passed a charter school bill 16-14.

The Oregon AFL-CIO, Oregon Education Association and Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber oppose Senate Bill 100 because, among other things, it would establish a system of charter schools that are publicly funded but allowed to operate with fewer state regulations such as teacher certification and collective bargaining rights.

The only Republicans voting against the bill in the GOP-controlled Senate were Verne Duncan of Milwaukie and Lenn Hannon of Ashland. Democrats Thomas Wilde of Portland and Mae Yih of Albany supported the bill.

Richard Schwarz, executive director of the American Federation of Teachers-Oregon, said SB 100 would allow for the conversion of existing private schools to public charter schools, which could worsen inequities in school funding by funneling public education money to schools that have restricted their enrollment to specific populations.

SB 100 also would only allow charter school employees to organize unions in units separate from other school employees within the same school district.

Kitzhaber said he would support a charter school bill that "enhances the public school system by encouraging new, innovative and more flexible ways of educating children." He said he has no interest in weakening the public school system by diverting funds.

Kitzhaber favors protecting collective bargaining rights of employees, but said waivers in contract terms could be requested and negotiated through an expedited process.

The bill is now being heard in the House Education Committee, which is chaired by Ron Sunseri, R-Gresham.

The Senate also passed a measure that would continue reforms in the state's workers' compensation system for five more years. SB 460 passed 24-6. The bill would increase permanent partial disability benefits while keeping intact restrictive clauses relating to temporary partial and permanent partial disability benefits, standards for rating permanently disability, and "exclusive remedy" for injured workers.

Since 1990 reforms in the system, employers have saved nearly $240 million in annual premiums, according the Department of Consumer and Business Services. During that time, the number of accepted claims also has dropped by more than 28,000 while employment has risen by more than 100,000.

The Oregon AFL-CIO said too many injured workers are being denied benefits and that changes are needed to help those individuals. It opposes SB 460.

State Representative Dan Gardner, D-Portland, introduced a bill that would allow construction contractors and hardhat employees to negotiate workers' compensation insurance in collective bargaining agreements.

It's not uncommon for a construction worker to be employed by several contractors during the course of a year. An injured worker often has to wait while contractors and insurance agents decide who is financially responsible for a claim HB 2450 would allow one designated insurer to be responsible for payments to an injured worker while all parties work out the details of who is liable.

The bill is patterned after a system already in place in California.

The Oregon AFL-CIO expects State Representative Steve Harper, R-Klamath Falls, to introduce legislation to radically restructure the unemployment insurance (UI) program. The word among labor lobbyists is that Harper will try to divert $40 million from the unemployment insurance trust funds to the JOBS Plus program.

JOBS Plus was successfully championed by anti-union Jeld-Wen, a Klamath Falls-based company. It obliges welfare recipients to accept state subsidized (to employers like Jeld-Wen), low-wage jobs, some of which are combined with training, if they are to continue to qualify for benefits.

UI benefits have long been structured to both help the recently unemployed find new jobs and to ensure that the cyclically unemployed are able to stay available for work in an industry and area during brief slack periods.

Labor opposes the bill, as does Associated Oregon Industries.

The chief petitioners of 1996's voter-approved minimum wage initiative are calling for the Oregon Restaurant Association (ORA) to retract "false and misleading statements" it is presenting to lawmakers in an attempt to lower the minimum wage.

The ORA is trying for the third session to pass a bill that would allow restaurants and drinking establishments to pay less than the current minimum wage by crediting tips toward that wage. In this case, it wants to pay $1 an hour less than the $6.50 minimum.

A letter signed by petitioners Senator Avel Gordly, D-Portland, State Representative Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland and Ellen Lowe of Ecumenical Ministries points out two false statements and four deceptive statements the ORA lobby has made.

The most egregious is its claim that"all but one waiter/waitress that testified in Oregon during the 1997 legislative session testified in favor of a tip wage." In fact, 11 waitpersons gave testimony opposing the tip-credit bill and many more came to hearings.

"It's incredible that the ORA thinks that any of us who were here could forget the hundreds of restaurant workers who came to express their opposition to tip credit," Rosenbaum said.

The ORA also maintains that "in each of the last three years on Jan. 1, the only employees in most of the restaurants that got raises were waitstaff." In fact, a 1997 National Restaurant Association survey shows several categories of restaurant workers are paid the minimum wage, so therefore, would have received a raise.

The ORA also told lawmakers that the only opposition to tip credit is from the Oregon AFL-CIO and public employee unions. The truth is, labor is but one of many organizations and individuals that oppose a wage reduction.

(Editor's Note: Neil Heilpern, R.C.A. Moore, and the Oregon AFL-CIO's Legislative Update contributed to this report.)

February 19, 1999 issue

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