Oregon AFL-CIO 'cautiously positive' about Legislature

SALEM - Oregon lawmakers kicked off the 2001 legislative session Jan. 8 with speeches and the usual calls for bipartisan cooperation in dealing with budget issues ranging from education funding to helping with rural development.

The Oregon AFL-CIO is characterizing the 2001 session as "cautiously positive." A few of the anti-worker lawmakers from 1999 are no longer in office with their narrow agenda of seeking takebacks from workers and their families. "Hopefully, labor will not face the onslaught of these attacks as we have in the past few sessions," said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt in the state labor federation's Legislative Update. "Moderate positive legislation for workers such as changes in the workers' compensation system and the adoption of a Patients' Bill of Rights are real possibilities."

The session got off to a good start as Nesbitt was invited to give testimony Jan. 16 to the House Business, Labor and Consumer Affairs Committee, chaired by Representative Tim Knopp, R-Bend. Although the testimony was presented after this issue of the Northwest Labor Press went to press, Nesbitt said he would review details on a wide range of issues on labor's legislative agenda under the general themes of: "Respect Work, Strengthen Families" and "Protect Our Voice in Our Communities and Workplace."

Union activists discussed labor's agenda Jan. 13 at a legislative conference sponsored by the Oregon AFL-CIO. Participants heard from labor lobbyists and labor legislators before meeting in small groups with lawmakers during a lunch break.

With the Oregon Senate and House closely divided between Republicans and Democrats this session, it will take cooperation to pass legislation in both chambers, Nesbitt said. In the Senate, where Republicans narrowly control the chamber 16-14, Senator Gene Derfler, R-Salem, was elected Senate President. Derfler, originally elected to the House in 1988, is serving in his final legislative session due to term limits.

Republicans continue control in the House 33-27, although labor-endorsed Democrats closed the margin by picking up two seats over the 1999 session. Representative Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, in his third and last term, was elected speaker. Simmons, a member of the Western Council of Industrial Workers and former president of the Eastern Oregon Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, will also fall victim to term limits, which limit lawmakers to no more than three 2-year terms in the House, two 4-year terms in the Senate, and no more than 12 years in a lifetime.

Due to term limits, 13 senators and 12 House members (including Dan Gardner of Electrical Workers Local 48, and Randy Leonard of Fire Fighters Local 43) cannot run for re-election.

Participants at the legislative conference also examined some of the opportunities and challenges of the upcoming Congress with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio and Darlene Hooley. The three agreed that one of the toughest jobs will be protecting the Bonneville Power Administration from privatization.

Legislative Agenda for Oregon's Working Families

Respect Work, Strengthen Family

* Provide fair compensation for injured workers.

* Ensure adequate health care from our health insurance plans.

* Make health care more affordable for working families.

* Improve support for working families during periods of unemployment.

* Make our hospitals safe for workers and patients.

* Defend the minimum wage.

* Protect retail workers from unfair treatment (alcohol and tobacco sales).

Promote and Protect Living Wage Jobs

* Ensure fair contracting and community standards in public works.

* Maintain affordable energy for industry and consumers.

Defend Our Voice as Citizens and Workers

* Protect the initiative process from manipulation and abuse.

* Protect the right to choose a voice at work.

* Protect our right to be heard in elections.

* Provide timely public information on who's funding political campaigns.

January 19, 2001 issue

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