OPEU organizes NW Education Labs

Employees at Northwest Regional Education Laboratories are voting this month on whether or not to join the Oregon Public Employees Union (OPEU).

Voting will conclude Dec. 18.

If past support is any indication, the union will win by a landslide. When OPEU filed for an election Sept. 26, 119 of the roughly 165 non-management employees signed union authorization cards. In October, 130 employees signed a statement of support for the union, which also called on management to back off from a campaign to discourage unionizing.

NW Regional Education Laboratories, located at 101 SW Main, Portland, is one of a network of regional laboratories around the country funded by the U.S. Department of Education that work to raise educational levels by helping school districts with research and program development. Workers there have master's and doctoral degrees.

With legal advice from the Stoel Rives law firm, management was able to delay the scheduling of the election by claiming that 16 of the employees who wanted to join the union were managers.

After seven days of hearings before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), with over 20 witnesses called and hundreds of pages of exhibits examined, the government ruled in favor of the union on every one of the challenged positions.

Now, workers face a barrage of anti-union literature - daily memos, hand-delivered by managers, bearing every hallmark of the standard anti-union formula. After explaining that employees are forbidden to talk to co-workers about the union on company time, one memo dated Nov. 28 went on to suggest that they call the NLRB if they "feel harassed by the union organizers at home."

In fact, the union organizers in this case are the employees themselves. For two years, a small number of employees discussed unionization. In August they asked OPEU to help them. The union assigned one staffperson, Lisa Siegel, to advise them. Siegel thinks the disingenuous and patronizing tone of the memos is only annoying workers. If anything, OPEU says, it's union supporters who are being harassed and threatened, by managers, detailed in three unfair labor practice charges filed with the NLRB.

As much as it's about ending arbitrary pay and promotion standards, the effort to unionize is about winning respect and a voice on the job, said employee Anne Batey. If employees vote to join OPEU, their organization would be the first of the regional labs to go union.

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