News briefs

Feds exhaust money to retrain displaced workers

The U.S. Department of Labor announced last week that it has exhausted all funds for the retraining benefits that the federal government has promised to workers who lose their jobs due to foreign trade.

Oregon received only $250,000 of some $5 million in supplemental funding that it requested from the federal government to meet the demand for these benefits this year. As a result, recently-laid-off workers, such as the 350 workers displaced at Roseburg Forest Products, won’t get the benefits they are entitled to under federal trade legislation until the start of the next fiscal year in October.

“The feds have turned this program into an unfunded mandate and an empty promise,” said Verle Steele, the Oregon AFL-CIO’s Workforce Investment Act labor liaison.

Meantime, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney is moving ahead with emergency legislation, supported by the Oregon Employment Department’s advisory committee, which would extend state-funded unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for the long-term unemployed and laid-off workers enrolled in retraining programs. Without the extensions, an estimated 15,000 workers would lose UI benefits between July and September, the Oregon AFL-CIO said.

The Employment Department reported that the proposed benefit extensions can be funded from the state’s $1.4 billion trust fund without requiring an increase in employer-paid UI taxes through at least December 2005.

Oregon Senate panel backs right-to-organize bill

SALEM —Workers employed by state-funded agencies and contractors would be protected from anti-union activities funded by their own tax dollars under a bill approved June 9 by the Senate General Government Committee.

Despite strong objections from construction contractors, the committee voted 3-1 to move Senate Bill 494-A (the Taxpayer Neutrality Act) to the floor with a “do-pass” recommendation.

SB 494-A, sponsored by Senator Tony Corcoran, D-Cottage Grove, and Representative Steve March, D-Portland, would require neutrality in union organizing campaigns from public employers, recipients of state grants, and contractors for services who receive 50 percent or more of their money from state funds. State agencies would monitor compliance and include the neutrality requirement in their contracts, and taxpayers could bring suit against employers that are using state funds to run anti-union campaigns.

Representatives of Associated General Contractors opposed the bill, arguing that they didn’t understand the extent of what would constitute an anti-union campaign and how it is construed.

But workers testifying for the bill painted a clear picture of the activities it was intended to prevent — including the use of taxpayer funds to hire high-priced, union-busting consultants and to pay for batteries of anti-union mailings to workers’ homes, the Oregon AFL-CIO said.

Senator John Minnis, R-Fair-view, told the contractors association: “I think this bill serves as good notice that you ought not engage in activities that are either for or against the union ... You focus on the job and not whether or not someone is pro-union or anti-union and basically if they (employers) are doing that, then woe is unto them. I appreciate that the unions have brought this forward.”

As amended, SB 494-A is narrower than an original bill considered by the committee in April in that it does not apply to contracts for goods. The amended bill eliminates the attorney general’s audit authority, but does allow the contracting agency to examine a business’s records to ensure compliance with.

Minnis voted with Senators Corcoran and Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, to move the bill to the floor. The lone no vote came from Senator Bruce Starr, R-Aloha.

The AFL-CIO expects a close vote on the Senate floor and is urging union members to contact their state senators and encourage them to support SB 494-A.

Local 290 installs heart defibrillation device at union hall

A lifesaving defibrillation program has been established at Plumbers and Fitters Local 290 hall in Tualatin.

Installation of a new Automated External Defibrillator (AED) at the hall and a training program will allow members and staff to recognize a cardiac emergency and use the device to shock the heart into a regulatory rhythm.

“We want to be sure we can effectively respond to any medical emergency that happens on our property,” said Local 290 Business Manager John Endicott.

Every year about 220,000 people suffer cardiac arrest and only 5 percent survive. Defibrillation is the only known treatment to restore the normal hearth rhythm, Endicott said. “For every minute defibrillation is delayed, the victim’s chances of survival go down 7 to 10 percent.”

According to Endicott, past emergencies at the hall and concerns about being able to provide effective first aid treatment led the union to set up the program.

Endicott said the AED is safe and easy to use. “It makes it possible for non-medical personnel to be trained to do it,” he said.

He encourages any facility in which large groups of people congregate to consider establishing a defibrillation program.

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