Oregon AFL-CIO looks back on 2001

January: State Legislature convenes; Oregon union leaders adopt a legislative agenda that includes workers' comp reform, prescription drug cost containment, a patients' bill of rights and expansion of unemployment insurance benefits; Tri-Met rejects a bid from an Oregon Steel subsidiary for light rail, boosting the Steelworkers' campaign against the company; Multnomah County commissioners adopt right-to-organize resolution; Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals Local 5017 wins recognition for 468 health care professionals at Kaiser Permanente; Freightliner announces 1,000 layoffs.

February: President Bush whacks worker protections: The Administration stops a new responsible contractor rule from taking effect, then the president signs executive orders blocking project labor agreements; tally of plant closures reveals 6,444 jobs lost in Oregon since July 2000; Oregon AFL-CIO announces the introduction of state legislation to extend unemployment benefits for dislocated workers; U.S. Chamber of Commerce launches campaign to repeal the federal ergonomics standard; 150 Oregon union leaders meet to chart a course to the "New Alliance," a reorganization of the state federation and central labor councils to build a stronger and more inclusive labor movement.

March: Congress axes the ergonomics standard, by a margin of 223-206 in the House and 56-44 in the Senate; all of Oregon's Democrats oppose the repeal, while Rep. Greg Walden and Sen. Gordon Smith vote for it; A State Senate Committee approves a workers' compensation reform package (SB 485) that will cover an estimated 10-20 percent more occupational injuries and illnesses in Oregon; AFL-CIO warns of a "perfect storm" in Northwest energy markets, a combination of deregulation and drought, that threatens jobs in aluminum, steel-making, paper and chemical manufacturing.

April: Atofina Chemical closes its doors on 131 workers, due to higher energy costs and cheaper Canadian imports, after 60 years of operation; Oregon's job loses total 11,571 since July 2000; 885 workers dislocated by the closure of AgriFrozen in Woodburn qualify for NAFTA job training benefits - but NAFTA-related job losses threaten to deplete Oregon's share of federal retraining funds; dislocated workers join our lobbying efforts to repeal or postpone Oregon's energy deregulation law and to gain extended unemployment insurance benefits from the State Legislature.

May: An analysis of voter turnout in the November 2002 election shows 86.3 percent of union household voters in Oregon voted in that election, the highest union voter turnout in the country; House Republicans move legislation to restrict voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts in future elections; Steelworkers rally at BPA to protest job losses as aluminum plants are cut out of new power allotments proposed for 2001-2006; Oregon Supreme Court finds aspects of the "exclusive remedy" provision of Oregon's workers' comp law unconstitutional; in (over)reaction, employers and legislators threaten to hold up action on the labor-management workers comp reform bill (SB 485); Bush's budget for FY 2002 proposes to cut funding for dislocated workers by 18 percent in Oregon; Reps. Hooley and Earl Blumenauer convene a hearing to document the need for restoration of these funds; Gov. John Kitzhaber signs labor's "patients' bill of rights" legislation (HB 3040), after unanimous passage by the House and Senate.

June: More than 100 dislocated workers turn out at the State Capitol to lobby for extended UI benefits, and a House committee responds by moving AFL-CIO bill to provide an extra 26 weeks of benefits for dislocated workers enrolled in retraining programs (HB 3759); a Republican effort to bypass the governor's veto of a legislative redistricting plan leads to a week-long strike by Democratic House members; then, as the legislators stumble toward adjournment, they approve an AFL-CIO bill to extend UI benefits for dislocated workers and finalize action on the first pro-worker package of workers' comp reforms in more than decade.

July: Legislature adjourns without enacting a much-needed initiative reform bill, doing away with hard-to-use punch care ballots or even granting a hearing on an AFL-CIO prescription drug cost containment program; the Oregon AFL-CIO gives the Legislature a passing grade for enacting workers' comp reform, an extra 26 weeks of UI benefits for dislocated workers in retraining programs and the patients' bill of rights; taking issues into their own hands, union leaders file draft ballot initiatives for a prescription drug cost reduction program, an increase in the minimum wage and a prohibition on the use of state funds to interfere with employees' choice for union representation; AFL-CIO cranks up phone banks to urge congresspeople to oppose fast track; Rep. Hooley announces her opposition to the Republican fast track bill; labor documents the threat to jobs and free workers from the growing use of prison labor in Oregon and files a draft ballot initiative to prevent displacement of job opportunities by inmate labor.

August: AFL-CIO's second annual Organizing Conference attracts 90 participants, who share reports and strategies from the front lines of organizing campaigns in Oregon and other states; Unions report organizing 7,443 new workers during the previous year, putting Oregon on track to achieve its goal of 17,000 new workers represented and covered by union contracts by June 2002; Delta flight attendants file for union representation with the Association of Flight Attendants; numbering 20,000, they are the only major group of U.S.-based flight attendants without a union; City of Portland workers and state higher education workers rally for fair contract settlements; maintenance of health care benefits is the major issue in both negotiations; Bill Sizemore begins collecting signatures on his rewritten version of his anti-union Measure 92, but the Voter Education Project launches an effort to prevent fraud and make sure voters know what they're signing.

September: 695 steelworkers are locked out at Wah Chang in a dispute over retiree medical costs; Oregon AFL-CIO's 46th annual convention gets off to a great start in Seaside on Sept. 10 with an early endorsement of Dan Gardner for labor commissioner, a widely-publicized panel of gubernatorial hopefuls debating the issues of importance to working families and a salute to AFL-CIO's Labor's Voices activists keynoted by Gov. Kitzhaber; then comes Sept. 11: the convention concludes the second day with delegates in shock, sadness and solidarity with moving comments from AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka and Ecumenical Ministries' David Leslie; delegates unanimously approve a new strategic plan to promote and support organizing and a commitment to finalize the New Alliance by April, 2002; the labor movement mobilizes to honor the workers and union members who died on the job and those who gave their lives trying to save the lives of others; Congress passes a $15 billion bailout package for the airlines and promises help to follow for laid-off workers.

October: A bill to extend UI benefits and provide health care assistance for airline workers dies in the Senate in the face of a filibuster; Sen. Smith votes against ending the filibuster, thereby dooming the bill he had agreed to co-sponsor; Boeing announces 297 layoffs at its Gresham plant, as the national job toll exceeds 500,000 since Sept. 11; Service Employees Union files for a representation election for 12,000 homecare workers, which will be one of the largest union elections in Oregon history; DCTU and the City of Portland reach agreement on a new contract after contentious bargaining and a three-hour strike; the House of Representatives takes a long-awaited proposal for relief for laid-off workers and turns it into corporate welfare; all four Oregon Democrats vote against the bill, Rep. Walden votes for it.

November: The struggle for worker relief moves to the U.S. Senate; laid-off workers tell their story to the press and lobby their senators; October's national unemployment report is the worst in 20 years; in Oregon, unemployment jumps to 6.5%, second worst in the country; U.S. Senate Finance Committee unveils a package of extended and improved UI benefits and subsidies for laid-off workers to maintain their health insurance; but the bill is killed on a procedural point of order; Sen. Smith votes to sustain the point of order, thereby killing the bill; state officials announce the arrest of a Sizemore signature gatherer for forging signatures, recorded on videotape by the Voter Education Project; as the vote on fast track nears, Rep. Blumenauer announces he'll vote against it.

December: National AFL-CIO convention in Las Vegas adopts a resolution calling on its member unions to commit 30% of their budgets to organizing; fast-track bill passes the House by one vote, 215-214, after Republicans stop the clock to twist arms and round up more votes; Reps. Blumenauer, Hooley, Peter DeFazio, and David Wu vote against it; Rep. Walden votes for it; in response to Oregon AFL-CIO proposed ballot measure, the Department of Corrections offers new rules to limit the use of prison labor; Oregon's unemployment rate leaps to 7.4%, the highest in the U.S.; the jump triggers 13 weeks of extended UI benefits beginning the week of Jan. 6; the Oregon AFL-CIO COPE Board votes 46-4 to endorse Ted Kulongoski for governor in the Democratic primary and unanimously backs Bill Bradbury in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate; homecare workers vote by a 9-1 margin for representation by SEIU; the Oregon Nurses Association begins a strike against OHSU in Portland for fair pay and safe staffing; health care cost increases complicate negotiations for pay parity with Portland area hospitals; the lockout at Wah Chang continues.

January 4, 2002 issue

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