Oregon AFL-CIO president Nesbitt resigns

Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt, who helped make the state’s labor movement a well-respected political powerhouse, announced his resignation Oct. 12.

He will step down Nov. 18.

The Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board elected Tom Chamberlain, a former president of Portland Fire Fighters Local 43, to fill the remaining two years of Nesbitt’s term. (See related article about Chamberlain.)

Nesbitt, a former executive director of the Oregon State Council of the Service Employees International Union, said he is considering several job opportunities at the national level.

“There is a lot of new thinking and a lot of opportunity developing at national levels — even globally. I am interested in working at that level,” he told delegates attending the 49th convention of the Oregon AFL-CIO Oct. 17-18 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

“This is a time of dramatic change for our union movement,” he continued. “Change of this kind can be difficult, but also challenging, energizing and full of new opportunities.”

Nesbitt was referring to the breakaway of four unions at the national AFL-CIO that has impacted state bodies and labor councils nationwide.

Since July, the Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, UNITE-HERE (which represents hotel, restaurant and textile workers) and the Teamsters have disaffiliated from the national AFL-CIO and formed their own Change To Win labor federation. The Laborers Union is expected to leave the AFL-CIO before the end of the year.

The national AFL-CIO Executive Council is still considering whether or not to allow breakaway union locals — through Solidarity Charters — to continue membership and leadership posts at state and local levels (most of the Oregon locals have said they would continue paying per capita taxes if allowed to. None of those unions participated in the Oregon convention).

Negotiations between the top leaders of the national AFL-CIO and Change To Win have been progressing (see related article), but meantime, state federations and central labor councils are having a difficult time figuring out their budgets for 2006.

The breakaway unions accounted for nearly 40 percent of the Oregon AFL-CIO’s per-capita tax income. The (potential) loss in income forced layoffs and a major restructuring, including a convention resolution passed by delegates converting the secretary-treasurer to a part-time unpaid position.

Brad Witt, a former business representative of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, has served as secretary-treasurer of the Oregon AFL-CIO since 1991. Until national leaders decide on the Solidarity Charters, Witt will remain the chief financial officer of the state labor federation, but will return to the payroll as a staff member of UFCW Local 555. If the national AFL-CIO can’t come to terms with the Change To Win federation, Witt will have to step down and the Executive Board will elect someone to fill the remainder of his term.

“I’m still confident that our unions will come to agreement on ways to work together that will work for all of us,” Nesbitt said. “Meanwhile, I didn’t want to go through our convention while I am considering other opportunities and cannot be sure that I will stay for the remaining two years of my term.”

Nesbitt was elected president of the Oregon AFL-CIO in September 1999, and was unanimously re-elected to a second term in 2003.

He helped lead the organization in its implementation of a new governance structure two years ago called the “New Alliance,” which saw affiliations grow.

Nesbitt co-chaired the successful Labor 2000 and 2004 political efforts that produced the highest voter turnout (86.3 percent and 91 percent respectively) of union household voters in the U.S.

During his tenure, labor has defeated all of union foe Bill Sizemore’s anti-worker initiatives and labor has helped elect all of its endorsed candidates for statewide office.

In 2002, Nesbitt guided labor’s successful effort to raise the minimum wage and reform the initiative process by sponsoring and passing Measures 25 and 26.

“He is probably the best AFL-CIO president I’ve ever seen in Oregon in my lifetime,” Governor Ted Kulongoski said. “I think it’s a loss not only for labor but for the people of Oregon.”

Nesbitt said his tenure as president, “has been the best job I have ever had — the most exciting, rewarding and successful work I have ever done.”

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