Oregon AFL-CIO to sponsor initiative to outlaw pay for petition signers

SALEM - The Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board voted Feb. 17 to proceed with a campaign for a constitutional amendment that would ban so-called "bounty payments" for signatures on initiative petitions.

Paying for signatures on the bounty system has created a black market for signature dealers who buy and sell signatures without regard to how they are obtained, said the state labor federation, adding that payment by the signature encourages signature gatherers to say anything to get a voter to sign.

"It rewards forgeries and it creates incentives for signature gatherers to carry many different initiative petitions as a way to harvest multiple signatures from unwitting signers," said AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt.

Because of this practice, signatures on initiative petitions have become commodities, which are sold by signature gatherers and re-sold to signature dealers on up through a "mercenary chain of subcontractors and contractors who have no accountability to the sponsors of initiatives," said the AFL-CIO Executive Board.

"Paying by the signature is corrupting the initiative process," added Ken Allen, executive director of Oregon Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and a co-chief petitioner with Nesbitt for the Initiative Integrity Act. "Our measure will clean up the signature-gathering process and protect both signers and sponsors of initiatives in the future."

The Initiative Integrity Act (I-143) is a constitutional amendment that will ban the bounty system of paying by the signature, while affirming the right of initiative sponsors to pay signature gatherers as employees for services performed.

By so doing, the measure will:

* Reduce the incentives for misrepresentation, fraud and forgeries in the signature-gathering process.

* Eliminate the black market of contractors and subcontractors who trade in signatures as commodities.

* Require signature gatherers to work directly for, and be accountable to, the sponsors of initiatives.

Petitions for the Initiative Integrity Act will be available by Thursday, March 14, at which time the AFL-CIO Executive Board will adopt a plan for signature gathering to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

The Executive Board deferred until its March 14 Committee on Political Education meeting any final decisions on whether to proceed with other ballot initiatives, including a measure to raise the minimum wage and another that would mandate a program for reporting pesticide usage at farms, forests and workplaces.

The state labor federation established a subcommittee to work on developing a labor-management project to control health care costs, with an emphasis on bulk purchasing of prescription drugs.

The Executive Board accepted administrative rule changes and written clarifications from the Department of Corrections that will limit the use of prison labor in Oregon. The board nominated AFSCME Political Director Mary Botkin to represent public sector unions in one of two labor seats on a new Prison Labor Advisory Board.

The Executive Board opposed the proposed contracting out of custodial jobs and services by the Portland School District and adopted as a resolution a letter in opposition to that proposal addressed to the school board.

AFL-CIO Board members adopted a resolution on law enforcement practices and labor rights that affirms "probable cause to believe that an individual or organization is involved in criminal activity" as the pre-condition for investigations and surveillance of workers and calls on law enforcement agencies to assign officers to serve as labor liaisons with organized labor.

The state labor federation renewed its Unfair/Do Not Patronize List, which includes Bi-Mart stores, Wal-Mart stores, Shilo Inns, Dunkin & Bush Inc., Cummins Northwest Inc. of Medford, Certaintead Corporation, and Plympton & Associates. It removed Oregon Health and Science University from the list.

Board members also supported expansion of the Homeownership Opportunity Initiative to all state employees. The program, operated through a partnership with the AFL-CIO's Housing and Investment Trust, Fannie Mae and Homestreet Bank, provides affordable home mortgages for union members. The program is in place at the City of Portland, Multnomah County, Portland Housing Authority and the City of Vancouver.

March 1, 2002 issue

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