Labor plays major role in founding Alliance

Sitting in blocs 12 abreast, nearly 1,500 participants -many of them union members - packed a hall at the Oregon Convention Center for the May 23 founding assembly of a new labor-community coalition: The Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good (MACG).

The group is the product of years of discussions among leaders from churches, unions, and community organizations. Participating institutions intend to work together on four issue areas: Access to health care; sustainable work and development (emphasizing conservation and union wage jobs); affordable housing; and public education. And, the founders announced, the group will have to confront several obstacles: Too little money in the state budget, and too much money in political campaigns.

Speaker after speaker made the case for urgency. Nearly half a million Oregonians lack access to health care. Oregon is number one in the nation in hunger. It's also the highest in the nation in unemployment, particularly in manufacturing, which was formerly the bedrock of family-wage jobs. Between 1991 and 2000, the price of a typical home doubled in Oregon. And the district with the shortest school year in the country is now Portland Public Schools.

But before it can solve the state's problems, Oregon will need to have fair, stable, and adequate revenue, speakers said.

Right now, Oregon has the 6th-lowest taxes in the nation, as a share of personal income. Only Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, South Dakota and New Hampshire are lower, speakers said.

Participants also heard personal stories from a single mother whose life was changed when she got help in buying a home, and from unemployed worker Eric Douglas, a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 16, who said 20 percent of his fellow union members are out of work right now, and one in 10 are in danger of losing their homes. Several public officials took part in the kickoff, pledging support for parts of the coalition's agenda, including Multnomah County Chair Diane Linn, Portland City Commissioner Jim Francesconi, Portland Development Commission Deputy Director Baruti Artharee, and Steve Marks of Governor John Kitzhaber's staff. The project of getting all the groups together for this new coalition was funded by the Industrial Areas Foundation, founded by famed Chicago community organizer Saul Alinsky.

The organization is a successor to the Portland Organizing Project and Metropolitan Broad-Based Organization. In its new structure as The Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good, the organization is composed of six caucuses: the Catholic Caucus, with 10 Catholic parishes; the Lutheran Caucus, with five Lutheran churches; the United Methodist Caucus, with three Methodist churches; the faith-based Independent Caucus, made up of congregations of Unitarians, Muslims, Jews, Presbyterians and the Church of Christ; the Community-based independent caucus, which includes Central City Concern, Centro Cultural, Portland Schools Alliance, Recovery Association Project, Rose Community Development Corporation, and Seventh Step Foundation; and the Labor Caucus, which includes Cement Masons Local 555, Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council, East Multnomah County Uniserv Council of the Oregon Education Association, Oregon State Council of Service Employees and Sheet Metal Workers Local 16.

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