News briefs

Unions protest WTO

As trade ministers from around the world continued to meet in Cancún, Mexico, about 300 people marched in Portland Sept. 13 to oppose plans to expand the World Trade Organization.

Critics of the WTO say the organization weakens environmental and consumer protections and fails to protect workers rights, facilitating a “race to the bottom” that benefits only the world’s biggest corporations.

Organized labor was the most organized presence at the Portland event, which was endorsed three days earlier by delegates at the Oregon AFL-CIO convention in Albany. Unionists and other demonstrators gathered in Northeast Portland’s Holladay Park for a rally, followed by a march that ended downtown at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

“The jobs crisis we are experiencing now is no accident,” Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt told rallygoers. “It is the deliberate outcome of a corporate agenda that puts low-paid workers on the phones in India to answer questions about the software that low-paid engineers design in Singapore to drive the computers that low-paid production workers manufacture in China that they then sell to us in America through the hands of Wal-Mart ‘associates’ who get substandard wages and little or no health benefits.”

AFSCME Local 3786 starts fund for gunshot victim

FOREST GROVE — Two years ago — Sept. 5, 2001 — City of Forest Grove custodial worker Judy Westfall was going about her job duties when she encountered an intruder outside the Forest Grove Power & Light Building. During that confrontation, Westfall was shot in the right eye by the assailant.

While Westfall had the gumption to collect herself and drive to the nearby police department, she has suffered permanent damage to her eye. Her workers’ compensation case and disability retirement claims are still unsettled, and Westfall now faces a serious financial situation.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3786, which represents City of Forest Grove employees, has opened a Bank of the West account and is seeking donations to aid Westfall until her workers’ comp and disability claims are settled. The small local union, which represents about 50 city employees, has made an initial $300 donation from its treasury.

“We are also asking local businesses, individuals and the community to help out," said Bradley Amundson, president of Local 3786. “Judy was a conscientious city worker minding her own business and just doing her job when this tragedy occurred. It’s been almost two years now, and she just needs a little assistance until all of her claims are settled.”

“Our union has always found ways to support our members in their time of need," noted Ken Allen, executive director of the 22,000-member Oregon AFSCME Council 75.

Donations to the Judy Westfall account can be made at any local Bank of the West branch, or by mailing a donation to: Bank of the West, 1926 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove, Ore., 97116, to the attention of Katie Brist. The account number is 156-005795.

AFL-CIO convention solidarity

Three busloads of delegates from the Oregon AFL-CIO convention in Albany used their lunch break Sept. 9 to join a picket line at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis.

About 330 hospital workers are engaged in a fight to get a first contract after voting in September 2002 to unionize with Service Employees Local 49. They have been in negotiations with the hospital ever since, and are stalled on proposals for wages and health coverage.

Union workers point out that Samaritan CEO Larry Mullins’ salary rose from $199,983 in 1998 to $351,975 in 2001, at a time when certified nurse assistants at the hospital went from $10.50 to $11.03 an hour.

Pickets marched along the sidewalks blowing whistles and singing “Solidarity Forever” before gathering to hear from Good Sam workers and union leaders. Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt led a delegation to deliver over 1,000 signed postcards of support, but hospital managers refused to accept them.

Workers voted Sept. 12 to begin preparations for a strike.

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